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Saturday, August 1, 2015

Using Google Docs to Improve Writing Instruction

Writing conferences are, in my opinion, one of the best strategies for teaching writing. Generally I've always thought that writing is one of the more challenging subjects to teach. Capitalization, grammar, punctuation-- pretty straight forward. Trying to help a student make their writing more "interesting" or "engaging", or helping students better develop characters or "establish a situation," is a little more tricky.

It was the time spent in writing conferences that always seemed the most valuable to my students. The conversations had and the edits made during conferencing are the ones that tend to stick with students the best. The challenge with writing conferences is that good writing conferences take a significant amount of one-on-one time, and when you have anywhere between 23 and 33 bodies in your classroom at one time (or more!), it is hard to find the time to read through and analyze and edit all of those essays or stories with each individual.

Enter, Google Docs. The "suggested edits" and "comments" tools (among others) in Google Docs made it so much easier for me to conference with more students more often. Docs also made it easier for students to conference with each other about their writing. Below are some of the ways that the tools in Google Docs improved writing conferences in my classroom:
  • "Share" option: This is by far one of the best features of the Google applications! Students can share their documents to me and to other students when they begin the writing process. We can collaborate on brainstorming, editing, and revising in real time allowing much speedier feedback. The "share" tool also lets me check in on student writing throughout the process; I don't have to wait until they (hopefully) finish a first draft of their story or essay to finally see what they're working on. 
  • "Suggested edits" tool: I don't have to go over every single grammar mistake with the student sitting next to me.  We can use the "suggested edits" tool to discuss and mark up capitalization, punctuation, or grammar mistakes that we find together in the first couple of sentences or paragraphs. Then, I can send the student back to writing and I can continue to make suggested edits on other errors I find. This way, the student has more writing time while also interacting with me in the editing process.
  • "Comments" tool: Another great way to virtually conference with students while they're working on their writing! Although I do still like to pull students to chat face-to-face when I think they need more intensive writing instruction, some conversations don't require as much formality. During structured writing time, I'll open up multiple tabs and watch students working in their documents. If I want to compliment a particular passage, or suggest a change, I'll leave a comment on the document. Students can make the change in the moment, respond to the comment, ask me a question, or leave the comment for later reference. This allows me to check in on twice as much writing (at least!) as I used to before using Docs.
  • "Re-open comment": If there is any question about a digital conversation that a student and I had about their writing, and the comment is "missing," I can always re-open resolved comments to review with the student. Sometimes students get "resolve happy" or make a change that I've suggested, but decide that they want to go back and look at the resolved comment again. That student and I can re-open the comment and take a look at it together to rediscuss.

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