Google Docs is great. It revolutionized my teaching this year and improved my students’ writing. Here’s what I learned — and some tips.
1. All Google Docs, all the way.
Some teachers don’t want to be pushy and therefore allow a hybrid system. They say: “Sure, go ahead, use Microsoft Word if you want to. It’s OK for you to email me your essays.” This is a big mistake. Go big on Google Docs, and don’t let the naysayers get to you.
2. Shared folders, not shared documents.
The typical way that people share on Google Docs is document by document. The better way is to set up a shared folder for each of your students. When the student wants to submit her essay to you, all she needs to do is drag her document into her shared folder, and voilà, you have it.
Why is this better? A few reasons: (1) A shared folder organizes a student’s body of work for the entire class, (2) Students remember to drag their document more often than they remember to share it, (3) It expedites a revision team. This year, my students had an online writing mentor and a peer editor. Share the folder to those people, and they get each essay, too.
3. Insist on naming conventions.
Unless you tell your students how to name their documents, you’ll get a lot of essays titled “Untitled.” Some teachers insist on including period numbers, first and last names, and assignment title. I’m not a stickler for the specific content of a document’s name, but I do make sure my students learn my system, down to the spacing and the colons. Mine was Assignment: FirstName LastName. Even though I thought it was fairly easy, it took nearly five weeks for students to get things perfect, but I never backed down. Precision, after all, is key.
4. Make comments, don’t highlight.
Some teachers use the highlighter tool to identify grammar mistakes and misspellings, or they type directly on the essay using a different font color. I preferred making all my marks by inserting comments. The keyboard shortcut (Ctrl-Alt-M) came in handy, and I found that students liked it when I didn’t physically write on their paper. It was easier for them to manage.
5. The most important part is reflection.
Google Docs is excellent for collaboration and revision, but students don’t improve unless they reflect on how they’ve grown. That’s why it’s crucial to insert into the process time and space for reflection. I had students copy and paste a one-page template at the end of each essay, which served not just as a record of their growth but also as a place for me to grade their final paper. This was helpful but not necessary. After all, you could just have students insert a comment at the end of their paper, to which you could respond.
I hope those tips are helpful. I plan on doing more posts about my experiences using Google Docs this year. More than any other tool, Google Docs transformed teaching and learning in my classroom.