Google docs has transformed the writing instruction of the classes I teach. Prior to our school's adoption of Google Aps, I gave significant feedback on the margins of student papers. I also used the comment boxes in Pages or MSWord when my students began to hand in their papers electronically via email. I liked the freedom that the infinite space of the comment box gave me. This space enabled me to rework students sentences and to specifically and directly target individual words and sentences. It did take a bit longer as I found myself giving more feedback, but ultimately I liked the improvements I saw in my students writing as a result of the increase in comments I was able to given them.
Two years ago, when I began using google docs to comment and grade my papers, I thought that it would be similar to the use of a word processing program. I thought the main benefit would be that I wouldn’t have to email my students their corrected papers. Yet, I vastly underestimated the benefit of using google docs. I can say without a doubt that because of google docs our students receive better and more thorough writing instruction, and they are becoming stronger writers because of it.
Our American Studies students, I say we because I team teach, write 10-12 page research papers during the second trimester. Students submit focused thesis paragraphs, very thorough outlines, first drafts and final drafts. For the most part( I do not require it because all of my students don’t have internet access at home), students use google docs to submit each part of their papers and I use the comment feature to give them feedback. This lengthy process has been made much richer because of the amount, quality, and responsiveness of the feedback students received on all parts of the process.
Here are some of the benefits:
Realtime Feedback: The ability to give students real time feedback on their writing is what I love most. Often times we can either sit together looking at the same screen or I can get online with them, comment and give them instant feedback as they rework their writing.
The Comment Box: The unlimited room of the comment box and the ability to tag individual words or complete sentences makes it clear to the student exactly what part of their writing you are talking about and gives you the opportunity to give them examples of ways to improve or enhance their papers.
Accountability: Students, once they share their documents, enable you to see exactly where they are with the writing process. This is especially important when they are undertaking major assignments like research papers.
Convenience: The google doc is convenient in all of the obvious ways, but the ability for students to “resolve” your comments makes their editing easier and more focused.
Nothing in the world of teaching is without its challenges. Here are a few I’ve found:
TIME: You can and do spend more time with each individual paper. Although I do think that the benefit of seeing multiple drafts means that the final draft requires much less reworking.
Organization: Difficulty keeping the documents organized. I do have folders, and I use them. Yet I still haven’t found a great method of organizing my documents yet and that makes finding documents challenging sometimes. Yes the search feature works, but keeping the titles of all of my students' work straight is difficult. Yes I am sure there are ways to do this, but I haven’t yet developed a good system yet. (Suggestions welcome!
Overall, the entire research paper process has been enhanced and our writing instruction has improved because we use this valuable tool. We have benefitted, but more importantly our students are getting better feedback and in a more timely manner, and their writing has improved significantly because of it.
Submitted by: Laura Robertson, American Studies Team Teacher and ESL Director at St. Anne's-Belfield School.