My Docs Tips

A colleague, @socratech,  recently asked on twitter if anyone had any examples of the way they use Google Docs in the classroom. It turns out I had a lot to tell him, so I thought a blog post would be good.

Those of you who know Docs know that it includes forms, spreadsheets and presentations as well as actual documents. I'm going to focus the tips here just on the documents part. I promise more posts later about my tips for the other parts of docs. These tips will be most helpful for people already a bit familiar with Docs. If you are brand new to Google Docs I suggest you start with this cool guide created by Richard Byrne and follow his awesome blog Free Tech For Teachers.

Ways I use Docs in my English Classroom:
1. English Journals: Each student creates a Doc called English Journal.  They add to it (from the top) all year long.  It includes quick writes, notes, questions and answers, warm-up type activities, vocabulary they need, etc. Almost anything they would put in a regular notebook.  I grade these every 3-4 weeks on a rubric.

2. Essays: What English class would be complete without them? Students create a new Doc for each essay and do all their work for that project in that doc.  Pre-writing activities or notes get pushed to the bottom of the doc and the "final" essay is at the top.  I can use the docs "Revision History" (under file menu) to see earlier versions. (I sometimes catch plagiarism that way.)

3. Sharing: The beauty of Docs is that students share their work with me AND their peers. All students are in a writing group that stays together and they share their documents and get feedback at group meetings. For more on the ways I use writing groups (with or without docs) please visit my page on Writing Group Resources.

4. Collaboration: Because multiple students can contribute to the same Doc at the same time I have found Docs make great collaborative activities. At the end of the semester students work in groups to go back through the course blog. Each group takes a month and contributes links to relevant material from that month, but every group is adding to one Doc that I shared with all the group leaders (and they shared to their group members.) So while group one is adding material from September, group five is adding material from January.  At the end of the period the class has a co-created study guide that summarizes (with links) all the material they are responsible for on the final. Link to blog post with their results.

5. I use Docs to publish anything I want my students to see and then just link those pages in the appropriate part of my class blog, either as a static link on the right or as part of a daily blog post. I have a doc called Homework.  I add to it as needed and, because a published doc automatically updates itself, the students can always find the correct homework from the link on the blog.

Very Important Tips:
1. When teachers are using docs with students they will have hundreds of docs shared with them (sometimes all in one day). It is critical to have a good organizational system. I tried having a folder for each period and then assignment folders inside that, but It worked out better to have a folder for each assignment and lump all student work for that assignment into it. (Made grading faster for me anyway.)  Experiment with different organizational patterns, but please use folders. (Update note: Google Docs now calls folders "Collections")

2. Also crucial is to give students a consistent way of naming their docs. Mine was this: Period#, Initials, Assignment name.  So if Dave Hernandez is in my third period class his English Journal would be named  3DHEnglishJournal,  His memoir would be 3DHMemoir etc.  It is a huge waste of time to have to open a document to see which assignment it is. And, while the initials don't always tell you exactly which student, they do narrow down the search.

3. Also, I always tell my students that I grade from the bottom. When an assignment is due on say, Friday, I know I won't really get to grading them until Sunday.  Students can keep working on their papers (for me anyway). When I do sit down to grade I start at the bottom so that I am grading papers that haven't been touched recently. Therefore a student who is actively still revising gets to be graded last. (I'm in favor of kids working on their writing.) Since it can sometimes take me a week or more to grade all of the papers for a major essay my students get the extension if they are still working.

4. Make students share a doc with you the day they create it. You can watch their progress and see who needs help sooner.

5. Check to make sure ALL of them have shared their docs with you well before a deadline. This helps to hold them accountable for getting started and sometimes there are sharing issues. Many times students get my e-mail wrong and I don't get their doc, or they named it wrong and I can't find it.

I hope these tips will help you use docs with your students more confidently. If you have other tips to share please make a comment below.