2 things I did with GoogleDocs this week

My students will sometimes complain about it, and so will my colleagues. Sometimes GoogleDocs just works really slowly at school, and no one likes the wait-a-minute-to-see-what-letter-you-just-typed game. Some students have told me that they can’t type on GoogleDocs from their home computers. I’m not really sure what’s going on there.

But, all things considered, it’s still awesome. (Here are 10 reasons why, from Jeff Utecht at The Thinking Stick.)

I “collected” final drafts from my seniors yesterday, and I loved not having to deal with all the printing sob stories. A couple of students who have listening problems (not hearing problems, mind you) brought their printed papers. When they confusedly handed them to me, noticing that no one else was doing the same, they said things like, “Wait, did we not have to print it out? When we ‘shared’ it with you, was that turning it in?” They then went on to tell me the printing sob story anyway, to ensure I knew how hard it was for them to print it out. I can’t win, sometimes.

So here are two things:

1. Super-commenting on a draft

I was doing some evening edtech reading, like I do, and I came across an Audrey Waters piece on the issue of banning cell phones. (She linked to it in the text messaging installment of her “top ed-tech trends of 2011 series” on Hack Education.)

Anyway, I have a freshman doing his research paper on that issue, and I know he’s been struggling to find good articles in the library databases. So I pulled up his draft in GoogleDocs and typed a note to him at the top of his paper, with the link. (Don’t worry, I changed his name in the picture below).

When he decides to work on his draft later tonight (ha! sorry, too cynical?), he’ll see that note, click the link, then delete that from his paper, hopefully.

2. Public In-Class Editing Session

I’ve done this a few times, and students have told me it was very helpful for them. I make a speech kind of like this.

Okay, I’d like to make a proposition to you all and ask for a volunteer. I want to pull up one of your drafts right now on my computer, project it in front of all of you, and edit it. I’m going to tear it apart, so you have to be okay with that. I’ll point out what’s good, but I’ll also point out everything you need to revise, and I’ll write comments in the margins explaining all this. I want to do this to show you how closely I’m going to read your papers. I want you to see the things I’m going to be looking for when I’m reading them. If I end up using your essay, you’re basically getting a free one-on-one editing session without having to come in on your own time, after school or during lunch.

That’s usually when a couple of hands shoot up, if they haven’t already. If I have a few volunteers, I pick one whose essay I can guess will be slightly above average. A superstar’s draft won’t give me enough to comment on in terms of revisions, and part of the goal here is to jolt them awake to how much work they have left to do. In other words, I want to scare them. And a below-average paper just isn’t a model I want to show them, plus it could be too embarrassing for the author.

When we have a volunteer, I ask for a round of applause. I then do just what I promised – pick it apart, write tons of comments in the margins (using the “add comment” feature, whose keyboard shortcut, ctrl-alt-M, is a must-learn), both positive and constructive. I highlight all the typos and spelling mistakes in bright green or blue, which usually does a good job of helping them visualize how crappy a non-proofread essay will read.

While I’m doing this, I ask students to take notes on the kinds of things I’m writing down in the comments. I tell them not to write down everything I say, of course, but to watch and listen for some comment that they know I might end up making on their draft. Basically, make notes to yourself on what you need to fix. I think this kind of task makes students feel respected in that they’re not being asked to merely copy down everything I say even if it doesn’t apply to them.

They’ve also told me that the “behind-the-scenes” view of how their paper is going to get graded is especially helpful. I do give them rubrics, but, you know, they don’t all look at them. I think the public viewing of something that is normally very private and hidden is part of what makes this work.


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  1. #1 by 1storyeveryday on December 7, 2011 - 8:31 am

    I had a teacher in high school who did a similar in class editing with a projector and slide printed of our papers – it was great! Loved it. I think it’s very helpful for students.

    • #2 by yoni on December 7, 2011 - 8:44 am

      Same idea, but so much work for the teacher! Thanks for following and for commenting!

  2. #3 by Michelle Dwyer on December 7, 2011 - 8:55 am

    So are you going to grade the final drafts via Google docs as well? I’ve done that with smaller writing assignments and found it quite exhausting to use the computer to grade. I also wasn’t keen on having to bring my computer and find Internet access when I wanted to grade (a bit more restrictive then just bringing a stack of papers and a pen). Do you then do a digital rubric or a paper one? Do you find that it takes you the same amount of time to grade on the computer, if that is what you do? Lastly, do you know if there is any research on how students perceive comments on paper or digital comments? Just curious. I really like Google docs for a lot of reasons, but as with any new tool, it brings up questions for me.

    • #4 by yoni on December 7, 2011 - 9:05 am

      All great questions that I’ve asked myself, too. My first few times using GoogleDocs to grade final drafts took forever. I think I over-commented. This time, I’m thinking that I won’t write comments in the margins at all. I’m going to write a paragraph of overall comments at the end, print it out, and attach it to a paper rubric. Maybe I’ll print out their final draft, too, just so they have it. I haven’t decided on that yet.

      I’m hoping that this way won’t take me too long. And since they’re not going to be revising this draft, I’m thinking that cutting out the specific comments in the margins won’t affect too many students. I should be able to type out a few specific sentences of evaluation in a couple of minutes after reading straight through. I’ll try to time it and then post on it.

      I haven’t seen any research on how students perceive digital vs. paper comments. Good question. I do know that I had a professor at Mills who always attached a half page of typed comments to our papers when returning them, and I loved them. I’m a dork, of course, but I found them very personal and thorough, and I didn’t then mind that there were hardly any comments on the actual paper.

      As for internet access, I’m guessing that will become less of a concern over time, hopefully.

      Thanks for commenting!

  3. #5 by Nico on December 7, 2011 - 12:29 pm

    Great ideas Yoni! I really miss having a tech savvy teacher like you. Anyway, keep on blogging coz I really look forward to your posts.

    • #6 by yoni on December 7, 2011 - 8:34 pm

      Aw, thanks Nico! That’s really nice to hear.

  4. #7 by Content Writers on December 7, 2011 - 12:41 pm

    Great post thanks. I really enjoyed it very much. You have excellent content on your blog.

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