Hyperdocs: Content and Creation All In One

What is a hyperdoc? It’s a file that contains necessary content and a place for students to create and add their own work. For an easier workflow, sharing a hyperdoc in Google Classroom, Canvas, or another LMS will allow your students to access a copy of the file (so they don’t change your original and each student or group can do their own work) and give them a place to submit their finished product.

I find that with elementary students, it helps to have a finite area in which their work is supposed to go. Papers that have a question, but not a line on which to write an answer typically results in a student not realizing they were supposed to do something in that space. The same often works in digital formats. I like to use tables for this purpose. Sometimes it’s a series of 1×2 tables with the question in a colored cell and a blank cell beneath it for students to put their answer. Other times I’ll put tables so questions are on the left and answers go on the right, but I color each row of cells so the question and answer that belong together are in the same color cell. While students are able to change that, I think it gives a good visual cue of “these belong together” to help students be confident that they are on the right track.

Below are two very different hyperdocs I’ve used with my class recently. The RI Pathway has 3 versions. I only shared one version, but leave me a comment or shoot me an email to see the other versions. Each iteration is identical except for the linked texts being below, at, or above grade level, and the image students need to analyze is from the text at their respective reading level. I did remove the links to the texts for copyright reasons since they were accessed from Reading A-Z and ReadWorks, but the titles accurate, so you can search for them on those resources if you wish.

Pi Day Challenge Hyperdoc

RI.3.5 RI.3.7 Pathway Hyperdoc

Check out The Hyperdoc Girls’ website for more information and resources.


Playlists and Pathways: How Do I Use Them?

Think of your playlist or pathway as a road map. Before you go on a long trip, you know the route you plan to take to get to your destination, even if you just know which interstates to take. Sometimes, even though you have a map, you take an unexpected detour and need to backtrack, other times you start off in a different place than someone else does, but you end up in the same destination. Using playlists and pathways in your classroom is a lot like this. As the teacher, it’s your job to create the “map;” in this case, the playlist or pathway for this skill or unit. Then, based on data from pretests or other resources, you mark the starting point for each student, and teach.

Some teachers use instructional videos as some of the activities on their playlists and pathways, and while I’m not opposed to making a video one of the tasks, I don’t feel comfortable completely replacing my instruction with a video. There’s just something to be said for the ability to gauge your audience, and adjust based on conversations students are having and questions they are asking as you check for understanding at different points throughout the lesson.

Let’s use an example to illustrate how this might look. Keep in mind that each day, you will look at how your students are progressing on their independent work. Anytime I have scheduled a reteaching lesson on the document below, that means that the data from that lesson’s independent work would show that group needed additional instruction and practice on that aspect of the skill before being ready to move on. Sometimes you will need to reteach for more than one day, other times not at all.

NFPathway1 (This is the pathway the embedded document below is teaching.)

Playlists and Pathways: What Are They?

The short answer is, playlists and pathways are the road map to your personalized learning unit for you and your students.

A playlist is a single-track path of activities that students will complete, in the order they are written. Based on information such as pretests, students may start at different points of the pathway, but the pathway for that skill or unit has all of the same activities and assignments on it for each student.

A pathway is much like a playlist, but it offers students choice. Instead of one activity or assignment that the student must do, they have 2 or 3 options of which task(s) to complete for that portion of the pathway. Just like with a playlist, the starting point for each student may depend upon information from a pretest or other data. Again, there is a progressive order in which the tasks must be completed, but the options can help to keep students engaged and interested. Sometimes the options are sorted by multiple intelligences, learning styles, levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy, or even the difficulty level of the material (below, at, and above grade level).



Both linked files are written as pathways, which means that they offer at least some level of student choice. To turn them  into playlists, all that would have to change is that students would be required to complete all activities in order, or you would remove some of the activities and students would be required to complete each task in order.

If your district uses Canvas as an LMS, there is a feature that allows you to use tasks and pages on Canvas as you would a playlist or pathway. To use it, you need to go to your settings and click the slider bar for mastery paths to green. On a graded task (teacher graded or automatically scored) that has been assigned to everyone, go to the Mastery Paths tab to choose which task(s) students complete next depending upon how they score on that assignment. If you assign multiple tasks for a score range, the default is for students to do both tasks, making it a playlist. When you are setting it up, you can click the “&” between tasks to change it to “or,” which allows students to choose one of the two (or more) tasks you have attached to that scoring range. This subtle detail effectively changes your playlist to a pathway.

I’m using a Mastery Path module in Canvas LMS for my students as we are reviewing for our end of year standardized testing. For each specific standard, I have a pretest in Canvas. Depending upon how they score on that pretest, they are either directed to another pretest, or to a page with review instruction on the skill and short quiz to practice. Students who do not show mastery on either quiz will be pulled for small group instruction and practice, then given another chance on the quiz. This allows students who have mastered the skills move on instead of sitting in on yet another review session for something they can already do proficiently, and lets those who need more instruction and practice have that in a smaller setting.

What is Personalized Learning?

According to the training I attended for several days when my school joined the personalized learning cohort in my district, it can be whatever it needs to be at your school. I was reminded through an article I read recently that personalized learning, at its core, is starting off where your students are, and taking them to the next logical step, preferably in a way that offers students choice and encourages student buy-in for the need to know that information.

Personalized learning is essentially differentiation on steroids.

How do you start where students are? Well, one way is to pretest them. Here are a few things I learned from using pretests in the past:

  • I really should have included questions that were 1 and 2 years below grade level at the beginning of the pretest. There were times when I assumed students had mastered these foundational skills, only to realize that we needed to take a few steps back when my lesson started with on-grade level material. My pretests have typically been identical to my end of unit test. I teach 4th grade. Ideally, my future pretests will include 2nd and 3rd grade level questions from skills that lead to 4th grade standards, then I’ll include 4th, 5th, and potentially even 6th grade skills that align to give me a clear path of “where to go next” with those students who have already mastered grade-level material. Google Forms has the potential to be really good for this, because you can make the next question conditional on whether students answer each question correctly. For instance, I could have a second grade level question as the first item on the test. A student who answers correctly would advance to a third grade level question, while a student who answers incorrectly would see a different second grade question next.
  • Multiple choice questions, while easiest to score, are not necessarily the best indicator of what a student knows on a pretest (even if most standardized test use this method). I once had a student score 100% on a multiple choice pretest on multiplying and dividing multi-digit numbers. When I handed him his pathway where he was to skip the instruction and initial practice and go straight to using those skills in constructed response tasks, he looked at me and told me he had no idea how to multiply and divide more than his times tables. He wasn’t joking, he was just a really skilled test-taker. I think that either having a performance task as the pretest or as a first activity for those who have aced the pretest would work well to prevent good test-taking skills from creating holes in students’ knowledge.
  • “Go deeper with your grade level standards, not up to the next grade level” is the mantra I’ve heard, but let’s think about it for a minute. Have you ever read the Common Core standards? If you attempt to take a standard at your grade level to the next level, you’re probably really teaching a standard that is 1-2 grade levels higher. Fourth grade standards require students to add and subtract fractions with like denominators, so bumping that up a notch is adding and subtracting fractions with unlike denominators, right? Well that’s a 5th grade standard. If you really look at the MAP test Learning Continuum, many of my students score in a range where what they should be learning next is a combination of 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th grade standards. I have a colleague who looked at the learning continuum for her gifted 4th graders in reading, and found that she needed to teach them some 11th grade skills in order for them to show growth. All right 4th graders, let’s read and analyze Shakespeare’s sonnets today. (I actually did teach sonnets this year, but found one in Caesar’s English by Michael Clay Thompson that was about Constantine, leader of ancient Rome, rather than describing Shakespeare’s mistress. I appreciate when I can use appropriate content.)

How do you offer choice and yet still make sure students take the next logical step for them as you are teaching? The short answer is playlists and pathways. The long answer is worthy of a separate post for another day.