English Teachers: Edit During Class Using Google Docs

I caught up with Ross Trudeau, an MTR alum, over dinner last week. He teaches English at KIPP King in the SF Bay Area. I asked him to write a guest post on how he deals with research papers, and in particular, how he uses Google Docs as a teacher as part of that process. Ross writes:

The set-up. We’re doing a 7-10 page research paper that involves a ton of clicking around the internet. My seniors, bless them, are major procrastinators. Vanishingly few of them put in any real work on essays until right before the due date. To try to generate some momentum, this week I gave them 3 consecutive days of dedicated independent work time during class.

Unfortunately, as a teacher, me circulating and doing over-the-shoulder pointing and ‘here-let-me-see-the-mouse’ is not efficient.

Reboot. Today all students were instructed to create and share with me a Google doc. It included their outline and any essay writing they’ve done. When they sat, each student was working within the document. I had 20 tabs open on my screen, so I could click between their essays.

A Google doc allows you to insert comments (like Word), and chat with the author in a pop-out window (like Gchat), but puts the whole process in the cloud in real time.

The end result was me giving specific feedback and dialoguing with 20 kids in a totally silent and engaged classroom.

At the end of the period I asked for some student feedback. 85% positive, 10% neutral, 5% negative. Almost all the neutral feedback was partially shame at knowing that I’d be aware of their lack of progress.

Kids wrote:

1. I like the google doc. I think it is a lot more accessible to get edits and feedback on our work than having you walk around to students tables looking over their shoulders. I just hate writing on the actual good doc itself...but it will have to do. :) Good point here. Google docs has limited word processing functionality (no endnotes, for example). But it has enough features that students can work offline, then copy-paste to the doc when they get to class.

2. I really like the Google doc idea, it not only gives me a sense of urgency I didn't have before, but really gives me reason to draft to the top of my abilities. Most importantly, I can ask questions without the need of disrupting others. Thanks for this! The urgency was something I hadn’t really considered. Unintended consequence for the win. With the potential of your work being observed and appraised at any moment, the dreaded “first draft” becomes highly accountable.

3. This google doc technique is cool. I like the instant feedback.

4. I really like this way of working. It lets me talk to you more easily without having to beckon from across the room or while you're busy with another student. Plus, considering that we're all rigorously working, it keeps things rather time-efficient. Another unintended consequence. Shy students no longer have to raise their hands or publically speak to ask a question. They just type it in the chat bar and I respond when I click back to their doc.

...Except when the internet is slow...

Yeah, that. Also, this whole setup requires you to have 20+ serviceable and internet-enabled machines. If you don’t have access, it’s still good to be able to check up on and offer feedback on work that students are doing at home, but it loses the cool/urgent factor of knowing that both author and editor are simultaneously online and working.

I’m basically sold. Every essay I assign from now on will be authored on Google docs (to the extent that kids have internet access at home) or at least worked on in class for 1-2 days before it’s due (to the extent that I can get laptop access). I get to track progress, kids get a little eAngel on their shoulder while they work, and I can dialogue with the loquacious and the reticent alike.