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Archive for the ‘Productivity’ Category

Whipped in to shape by Grammarly

Over the last few weeks, I was whipped into shape, grammar shape, with Grammarly.  Have you never heard of it and wondering what it is? It is a grammar check on steroids!   Grammarly goes beyond the basic spelling, and grammar check built into typical word processors such as Microsoft Word, Apple Pages, Google Docs, etc. We all have experienced the embarrassment of spell check missing an error in a report that we’ve written or a letter. Or we’ve been frustrated by Word’s repeated flagging of a mistake over and over again that isn’t an error. Or we’ve seen the errors in a student’s writing that is clearly an incorrect suggestion from Word’s spell check but the student just accepted all of Word’s suggestions without thinking about whether it was right or not. If you think that errors in your writing don’t matter, check out the helpful infographic below. I’ve had the pleasure of being able to utilize Grammarly for the last few weeks*.

Features and “Pros”

  • Multiple methods to utilize Grammarly. For example, Microsoft Word Add-On, Chrome Browser Extension, and Grammarly Website.  I frequently used Grammarly within Chrome and Word.  Inside of Chrome, Grammarly checks everything from Google Docs, to emails, even within website form fields such as within our IEP system.
  • Robust grammar suggestions.  At times I was blown away by the suggestions and also utterly confused because to be completely honest, grammar is not my strong suit.
  • Identifies comma errors. I know commas can be a touchy subject, some individuals are comma happy while others are comma minimalists.  I believe Grammarly’s comma suggestions are a good balance but also grammatically correct.
  • Explanation of grammar suggestions. I was pleasantly surprised by the in-depth explanations and examples to support the suggestions that Grammarly produces.
  • When writing it is easy to switch between reviewing Grammarly’s suggestion, making changes, and then back into what you are writing. For more detailed screenshots see below.
  • It reminds you that nothing can replace a human proofreading you’re writing so there is no guarantee that it is as good as a human.
  • Grammarly provides a “score” if you upload or copy and paste a document into their website editor. For students, I see the potential for students to be able to set goals to minimize the number of errors in their writing and increase their score.  The score could potentially be used as a progress monitoring tool…maybe.
  • Errors are grouped as “critical issues” and “advanced issues”.  The advanced issues really took more of my brain power to think about whether Grammarly’s suggestion was correct because the explanation often talked about things such as “unclear antecedent”, passive voice vs. active voice (that’s a throwback to middle school), etc.
  • English teachers would probably love Grammarly’s “vague word” or “redundant word” suggestions.  It makes suggestions for words such as “big”, “actually”.

Cons

  • Premium is a monthly fee.  I personally dislike services and products that have a recurring monthly fee.  I know almost everything does now, but I will nine times out of ten prefer a one-time product purchase over a recurring monthly fee.  Grammarly clarified with me about the difference between the Premium account and the Free account. The Microsoft Word add on isn’t available for the Free account and only the web-based/chrome extension works with the Free and Premium account. The Free account does offer the contextual spell checker, grammar checker and vocabulary enhancement but some of the enhanced grammar checks, enhanced vocabulary, etc., are only available with the Premium version.
  • In my niche writing with some words that only exist in the psychological realm, I was frustrated when I couldn’t find a way to choose “ignore all”.  It might be possible, but it was not easy for me to find. It was very frustrating to have suggestions about names over and over again and so I just started skipping over many of its suggestions.
  • A couple times it didn’t find errors that I thought it might catch, but see bullet six above and remember it isn’t a replacement for a human proofreading.
  • I did not always get the same easy of use feeling when using Grammarly in Microsoft Word. You have to turn Grammarly off and on
  • There were a few small errors in its suggestions that while mildly annoying I think would be easy to overlook, in the long run.

Summary

I’ve thought a lot about whether Grammarly would be good for students to use.  I believe it could be a very powerful tool for middle school and high school students, but the big drawback is the monthly cost or yearly cost. I don’t believe school districts are overly interested in supports and services that have recurring fees.  As a professional, I do believe it caught more errors than any spell check ever does. I LOVE the chrome extension and the ease of checking my work within chrome because so many  tools we, as school psychologists use on a daily basis are web-based now.  The chrome extension made checking my work easier and the whole goal of this blog is to share tips and tools that help us work smarter, not harder.

Grammarly, has been generous enough to offer a Premium account for one lucky person.  Comment below with either your biggest writing error pet-peeve OR why you believe Grammarly would be helpful to you in your work either for yourself or for students.  I’ll review the comments at the end of the NASP Conference and contact you by Sunday!  I’ll also be at NASP Tuesday night through Saturday and I’d love to meet all of you, talk tech, and share our current favorite tools.

Screen Shots

Grammarly provides a running total of your errors as you write, shown in the small red circle of any text box you’re currently writing in within web-based applications.

Grammarly's running total of errors as you write.

Grammarly’s running total of errors as you write.

Grammarly breaks errors down into Advanced Errors and Critical Errors which you can see when you click on the red circle with the number of current errors.

Grammarly's breakdown of issues into  Advanced Issues and Critical Issues.

Grammarly’s breakdown of issues into Advanced Issues and Critical Issues.

Within the website that you are in, you can easily accept the suggested changes, just by hovering over the underlined error.

Grammarly seamlessly provides suggestions which  makes it easy to make changes on the fly.

Grammarly seamlessly provides suggestions which makes it easy to make changes on the fly.

Or, if you transfer into their editor, although you’re still in the web-based program that you’re using, Grammarly provides in-depth explanations into the suggestions made as well as examples.

Grammarly provides explanations of errors and suggestions, including examples.

Grammarly provides explanations of errors and suggestions, including examples.

Why Writing is Important

writing_skills_matter* In full disclosure, Grammarly offered me access to a Premium account for two weeks in exchange for writing this review.
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Two Factor Authentication

The discussions around the use of cloud computing continues, as it should, but “the cloud” continues continue grow in popularity and acceptance for a variety of reasons.  I’ve discussed in some previous posts the precautions I take with the cloud computing services I utilize on a regular basis but, a part of our legal and ethical practice as NCSP School Psychologists is to continue evaluating ethical uses and practices.  Two factor authentication is another step I’ve taken as a part of my daily work.

Not familiar with two factor authentication?

The video below does a good job explaining two factor authentication.  Here is my brief explanation.  Entering a password is one way of verifying who you are because hopefully you’re the only one who knows the password but two factor authentication adds another way to authenticate that you are who you say you are.

So why would you want two factor authentication?

A strong password is the first step to protecting information but two factor authentication is similar to a second, completely random password.  This completely random password improves your protection of information.  Who doesn’t want more security?

My Uses of Two Factor Authentication

I currently use two factor authentication with both Dropbox and Evernote.  This means when I log-in to either dropbox or evernote, via their website, I first log-in with my username and password but then the service prompts me to enter in the code displayed in my Authenticator app.

LogIn

Google Authenticator AppThen I use my Google Authenticator App to get the code that I enter in the log-in. The authenticator number only displays for 30 to 60 seconds before another one displays. Below is a screenshot of my authenticator app displaying the code for evernote and dropbox for whichever service I’m logging in to.

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So some way, I never promised to have all the technical background and know how, Evernote knows what number is being displayed and so when I enter it Evernote knows I am who I say I am! Voila!

I should draw your attention to the fact that two factor authentication is when you used the web-based service. If you have Dropbox or Evernote installed on your computer then you only use two part authentication when you log-in, which for me is not every time (depends on your settings).  So for me, because I don’t have Evernote or Dropbox installed directly on work computers I access the information by logging in to the website and this is when I’m prompted first for my password and then for my authentication code.

Couple Words of Caution

During the two part authentication set-up process for whichever service(s) you choose to use it with, the service will provide you with an EMERGENCY backup code in case you lose you authenticator app.  KEEP THIS SAFE! If you lose your authenticator app and don’t have this code you won’t be able to get back in to your account. Period. Can I stress any more how important this is to keep this safe!

Ready? Set. Go!

Evernote and Dropbox both have great information and directions for how to set-up two factor authentication. Check it out and send me any questions you might have that come up. I’ll do my best to answer your questions and help out.

Evernote Two Step Verification

Dropbox Two Step Verification

Google Two Step Verification  – If you’re wondering why I didn’t discuss Google Two Step Verification its because I don’t currently use it.  Since my district isn’t a Google Apps District currently I rarely have any information that I need to keep that secure so I don’t have two step verification enabled.  I’ve started reading about it though because the word on the street is that our district will be moving that way in the near future.

iTunes Gift Cards

iTunes

As a techy geek, an iTunes gift card is a no brainer for me as a gift from my family members and Santa is always good to me and tosses one in my stocking as well. If you received an iTunes card and are contemplating what to spend it on you could definitely spend it on Angry Birds, Mindcraft or new music but you could also spend it on new apps to help you work smarter not harder.

Here are few suggestions:

I know it has been a while since I last posted but I’m really going to work hard to post more often.  I have some ideas for reviews or posts but I’m up for suggestions so send them my way.

Updates to School Psychology Tools App

School Psycholog Tools App for iPad and iPhone

School Psychology Tools App

I’ve now written several times about the School Psychology Tools app as updates have come out. A new update was released last week and provided some functionality I’ve been asking for. Woohoo! Ask and you shall receive, right?  I’m sure I’m not the only one who has asked, but it makes me feel good nevertheless.

Entered students/clients can now be archived when they age out, move, exit interventions, etc. This helps me immensely in cleaning up my student list within the app so I do not have to scan through a massive amount of students to find the student I need.

Actually archiving the students didn’t immediately stand out to me but consistent with previously provided developer support, within an hour I had a response to my question.

First touch the “edit” button in the top right corner.
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Then select the students you want to archive by touching the circle to the left of the picture/name (makes it turn to a red check mark). Once you select one or all the students to archive, touch the “archive” button at the bottom center.

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If  at some point you want to see the archived students touch the “select” button (bottom left) and choose “inactive” to view all of your inactive students.

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The new features are definitely easy to use, once you know how to use them. These are great added features and I can now remove it from my wish list but I still have one big wish for this app. I would return to using this app for every observation if I could take notes while the observation was running, similar to the BehaviorLens app, rather than pausing the observation and then opening the notes section. I’m certainly not saying that the BehaviorLens app is a better app since it also has several notable weaknesses and both have strengths that make my work easier than before I had the apps.

Is there anything else you wish was an option with the School Psychology Tools app or any great parts of it that I’ve overlooked?

Paperless Date Tracking

During an impromptu #schoolpsych twitter chat about paperless tools  (you can find my “archive” of the chat on Storify) we were talking about how I use excel to track due dates for IEP and Re-eval dates.  Even though I trust all of my colleagues 100% to be on top of their caseloads and know when IEPs and re-evals are due, sometimes life happens so I’ve put together a spreadsheet that helps provide me peace of mind and a backup.  Since I also don’t trust my own calculations of when IEPs are due I use excel’s formulas to calculate the dates for me.  I’m always try to work smarter, not harder.  I’m able to get excel lists of all students in each of building with IEPs and I use that list to calculate the due dates for the year.

If you’re working in your own sheet here is an example of how to write the formula.  Let’s say the student’s date of birth is in column B, annual IEP date is in column C and the date for their most recent evaluation is in column D.

Calculate Annual Date

In an empty cell/column  type this formula: =sum(C2+365) which will result in the next date for the student’s annual IEP.

Calculate 3 year Re-evaluation Date

In the next empty cell/column, type this formula for the student’s 3 year re-evaluation: =sum(D2+1095).

Calculate 8th Birthday for Early Childhood Re-evaluations

In another empty cell/column type this formula to make sure you don’t miss a re-evaluation of an early childhood developmental disability certification (ECDD) before they turn 8 years old: =sum(B2+2920)

After I copy these formulas all the way through the sheet I make the dates red for the evaluations that are due during the school year for easy reference. I also check to see if a child with an ECDD certification will turn 8 during the school year so our team can start planning our evaluation well before their birthday (parents don’t want a last minute meeting on their child’s actual birth date, they want to be delivering treats to their child’s classroom).  I typically check my eval list on a monthly basis to make sure we’re not overlooking any required re-evals.

6f5e1_Google-Docs-icons_270x177

For those of my blog followers who are using google I created an example sheet you can tweak for yourself, Google Sheet IEP Date Tracking Template.

excel_k007-20111103115659-00003 I also have an excel template that everyone is welcome to tweak for their own use. CaseloadExample

If anyone has any trouble with either form, let me know and I’ll help troubleshoot but if anyone has any improvements, pass them along.  Happy tracking and compliance!

BehaviorLENS

BehaviorLENS appBehaviorLENS is an iOS app for school psychologists, social workers, behavior specialists, teacher consultants, etc., really anyone who observes behavior.  I took the leap and purchased BehaviorLENS ($29.99) to see if any of the cons I noted with SchoolPsychTools were addressed in this app.  The quick response is…some but not all which is pretty typical because I doubt we’ll ever have the perfect solution.  My review includes mostly information about the interval recording, frequency count, and duration options and not the ABC observation because I have yet to use it. So even though I don’t discuss does not mean that I don’t like or that it is great and no areas to improve upon, just a lack of information to share.

Strengths

  • One feature I really like in BehaviorLENS is the ability to note behaviors as they happen and have a time stamp added to note.  While this doesn’t lead to a structured observation it does allow you to add notes about other behaviors, classroom events and such while completing a structured observation such as an interval recording method.  This also allows you to see how some things unfold during the observation.
  • The pre-loaded lists of behaviors is outstanding, I can’t complain at all about how much is already included which is less work to set up. Also, the pre-sets of certain behaviors being “not engaged or “engaged” and “not disruptive” and “disruptive” are helpful as well.
  • The ability to combine reports is great although there is one trick I figured out.  You must run a report for a single observation and then run a second report where you can choose all of the observation sessions available. If you don’t first run one report, the option to add other observation sessions is not available.  Weird, but a pretty easy work around.
  • Reports are broken down in multiple ways. For example a report provides the percentage of intervals on-task versus off-task but then also another report of the percentage of intervals of all the on-task behaviors (ex. listening to discussion, interacting with teacher, transitioning, seatwork, etc.)

Graph 1Graph 2

  • Reports are easy to email to myself to include in my psychoeducational reports. I usually end up copying just the graphs from the BehaviorLENS report and adding them to my own reports, not using the whole report.
  • Password protected. Always good.
  • While their support on their website isn’t stellar when I sent an email asking about running multiple observation reports they did get back to me and were helpful.  It is always nice to have helpful support personnel.
  • Good video tutorials on their website.

Weaknesses – Reports

  • My biggest disappointment overall is when you create a report Duration Chart rom duration observation the total time for each behavior is not provided.  A graph with some approximation is provided but this lack of information forced me to write in my report, “on-task approximately 15 minutes”.  Not ok.
  • Surprisingly, even though I’m very happy to be able to add notes while the observation is in progress with time stamps, the time displayed is only the hour and minutes, not seconds.  This makes it difficult when I’m going back in my notes to remember if two notes happened 5 seconds apart or 59 seconds apart, if the notes happen to take place at 2:15.01 and the next at 2:15.59, currently both are noted as 2:15.
  • When you run the Duration observation report you’re only provided with duration data, not frequency data even though the instances of behaviors is actually counted in the app. Seems weird and an easy fix to add the instances to the report.

Weaknesses – Functionality

  • As I stated above, one of the strengths is the amount of pre-loaded behaviors to choose from. The down side to this is that there are so many to choose from. A “favorites” list or a list of focus behaviors for that particular student might be helpful.
  • Within the Duration observation section, it is great that you can choose 1-4 behaviors to focus on during the observation but I’m so surprised that the GREAT behavior lists from the interval recording method isn’t included so instead you write your own.  Pros and cons to this.
  • The recording button within the Duration observation method doesn’t change much and makes it hard to quickly determine if you’re recording or not.  I’ve had mini heart attacks when I look and think that I haven’t been recording a behavior when I have been.
  • A requirement to choose the activity at the start of the observation would be helpful because sometimes I forget to “change the activity” at the start of the observation.

Overall, BehaviorLENS is a good observation tool.  What I’m most excited about is the ability to add notes while I’m observing and not having to switch between an observation app and note taking app to make notes during the observation.

Any pros or cons that you’ve found when using BehaviorLENS?

KustomNote a.k.a Awesome

You might be thinking that my spelling has gone to pot while I’ve been on vacation, right? Custom is spelled with a ‘c’ not a ‘k’! You may have noticed that many of the Web2.0 tools have “unique” spellings and KustomNote is no different. So what does this have to do with school psychology or education? Well, following several days of training at the end of the school year about the 7 Habits of Effective People and The Leader In Me I’ve been focusing on some “big rocks” in my life and while sharing tech resources is very important to me it hasn’t been my highest priority. Although as I’ve been learning and practicing the 7 Habits in my own life I’ve found a great tool which not only helps me with my “big rocks” but also will be helpful at the beginning of the school year!

As I shared before, I LOVE Evernote but I’ve often wished it had note templates, especially for meetings that have similar formats such as problem-solving/IST/student study team meetings and while you can set up a notebook of “template” notes, you then have to copy the note and such. It just isn’t as easy as I’d like it to be until I found KustomNote. I’ve been using Kustomnote to complete my weekly compass and I see lots of potential for uses during my school psych work day also. For example, one of my building uses a student profile form with strengths, weakness, current interventions and recommendations to guide our team meetings. Previously I had to type those headings out in Evernote every time we had a team meeting . Now, I have a student profile template and can fill in the fields as we go through the meeting. When I’m finished taking notes, my KustomNote is automatically saved into my Evernote notebook for easy future references.

Here is what my Student Profile note looks like while being created through the KustomNote app

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So here are some of the strengths and weaknesses of Kustomnote
Strengths:

  • Great integration with Evernote
  • Easy interface to create your own templates
  • Database of templates shared by other for you to use and modify for your own needs (working smarter not harder)
  • Colors and note backgrounds are a welcome change for Evernote’s standard theme

Weakness:

  • Have to create the note either in the KustomNote app or through their website OR modify one of the other notes you’ve already created with KustomNote but that’s the same thing as having a “template” notebook in Evernote. A welcome change would be to be able to create a new note within Evernote just pulling in your KustomNote template
  • Limited formatting of the layout of your custom note. You’re only able to have one column in your note so you’re unable to have for example, a 4 quadrant note and have things side by side.
  • When editing an already created KustomNote that is now in Evernote, sometimes the formatting gets messed up and doesn’t follow the style of formatting of the original note. I often edit a note more than once so I need it to easily keep the same formatting and not get all jumbled up when I edit it multiple times.

All in all, while KustomNote has some weaknesses, it has enough benefits to me to keep using it for the foreseeable future or at least until I learn about a better solution.  

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