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It’s Monday night. That means essay mania.

 Every other Monday, my students write an essay in class to prepare for the AP test in May. Their homework is to type their essay on Google Docs before 11 p.m. so that their writing mentor and I can review it on Tuesday morning.

Usually, everything is quiet until about 9 p.m. Then the first text comes in. I tell my students that I don’t accept excuses but do appreciate knowing what’s going on. What’s even worse than a late essay, after all, is a late essay with no communicated reason. (That’s super bad.)

Here are the texts I received tonight:

  • Three students seeking online help on their essays. They had trouble figuring out Charlotte Bronte’s language in the Jane Eyre passage. I love working with students on Google Docs, switching back and forth from chatting to making comments on their essays. They seem to like it, too.
  • One student complaining that her Internet connection is intermittent again. AT & T says it’s something outside but has been unable to fix it. My student’s mom and I have been calling for three weeks. No solution yet.
  • One student asking for an extension until midnight because her job changed her hours today. Sure, not a problem, I write back.
  • One student telling me she’ll have to finish the essay tomorrow morning because she left her house after having a huge argument with her mom about college. The student wants to go to Los Angeles; the mom wants her to stick around. Her mom will come around, I write. Don’t worry.
  • One student informing me that he might be late on his essay because he was absent from school today to take care of his mother, who is ill. I tell him I hope his mom feels better and that his essay absolutely needs to be ready before morning, even though he wasn’t at school.

The bad news: Several students are still having trouble meeting the Monday night deadline, even though this is the fifth time we’ve done it.

The good news: They’re communicating with me. They’re telling me their stories. And they’re not lying.

Sure, I’d prefer if my students all had working Internet, didn’t have to worry about working 20+ hours a week, could apply to college without having to deal with parental interference, and didn’t feel like they had to skip school to take care of their mom.

But even though we didn’t achieve 100 percent on-time turn-in tonight, I do feel we achieved something else perhaps as important: that this class is a priority in my students’ minds, that they value our work together, that they want to do well, that they believe in the process of brilliance-making. 


  1. Vanessa Siino Haack

    This sounds fantastic! I love that your students are communicating with you, asking for help–that you can see them integrating this work into their lives!

    I’m so curious about the process of getting this set up. Do all your students have computers at home? How much of a concern was that? Did you spend a day in class introducing the site (or are Google Apps well-enough integrated into the school)? Do you have 100% participation rate on Google Docs (at one time or another at least – obviously not 100% timely participation for every paper)?

    Sorry if you’ve answered this already. I poked around a bit and didn’t see it, but I may just have missed it.

    • Mark Isero

      Thank you, Vanessa, for your thoughts and questions. I am thankful that we brought Google Apps to the school several years ago. By the time they’re seniors, students do nearly all their work on Google. As a school, we could do so much more to help students with some advanced features, but I’ve also found that learning how to use technology requires hands-on trial and error.

      Computer access was definitely a concern. I surveyed my students the first week of school about their tech situation. Most had computers or had easy access to one. For those who didn’t, I got computers donated. I’ve found that printing is much more of a concern for my students than computer and Internet access.

      A few students at first didn’t prefer using Google Docs; they liked Word better. But once I told them that it was required, that they’d be getting an online writing mentor and personal comments from me every week, and that their lives would be much easier, they came around with little hesitation.

      Let me know if you have questions or concerns. Does your school belong to Google Apps? If not, it’s easy to enroll, and even if your school doesn’t want to go in that direction, it’s pretty easy to get your students their own personal Gmail account if they don’t have one.

Please share your brilliant insights!