I've been using writing groups in my English classes for five years. The process got much better once my students all had laptops. We used Google Docs, but students still had to share their paper with each of their group members for each assignment.
Today we made a great leap forward. Writing Groups got started much smoother. Students spent more time reading and discussing their writing. I complimented my classes on their excellent first day with writing groups, but it was the shared folders that made it possible.
Late in the afternoon yesterday I wondered if it would be worth the tedium of making six group folders for each class, adding the correct student essays to each folder and then sharing each folder with everyone else in the group. Ok, perhaps tedious is an understatement, but worth it, yes, very worth it.
1. I already had every student essay shared with me in one folder. Within that folder I created the group folders labeled by period and group number. This took about five minutes per class.
2. Google Docs kindly allows a doc to exist in more than one folder. So, for example, I selected the six student documents that belonged to students in group one and then clicked the folders button. That brings me a drop down menu of all the folders I have in GD. I checked the box next to the group one folder, but I also leave the box checked for the folder where all the student docs are already. This took about 20 minutes per class.
3. Once I had a folder for each group I opened that folder and clicked "share this folder" next to the folder name. The dialog box that pops up can be dragged, so I moved it lower and then used the owner e-mail addresses on the documents to write in the e-mails of the students in the group. This was slow but still only took me about 15 minutes per class. [Google could easily automate this for me by adding an option to share a folder with the owners of all documents in the folder. I plan to ask for this.]
4. When the students came to class they found new folders in their GD accounts. Some needed to be shown the "folders shared with me" part on the left, but most groups figured it out very quickly. The decided which person's writing to look at first and got started.
Best part is that any document they add to their shared folder is now shared with their group. I won't have to repeat the folder process until next fall. (I like to keep writing groups stable.) I will have to teach students how to add a doc to the shared group folder, but I think that should be simple.
These options might have saved me time, but cost a bit more class time:
I could have had the students create and share their group folder by pulling together one student from each group after they had collected e-mail addresses from their group.
I didn't need to add the documents to the folders. I could have shared the folders and then had students each add their own doc, but there would have been many confused looks.
Overall, I think the instant gratification of having docs already shared and folders ready to go kept the focus on the student writing instead of on making the technology work. It was worth my time to set up the shared folders that groups will use all year long.
For more on how I use Writing Groups in my classroom see my site full of resources.