Have you ever felt like that pile of assignment papers or essays will never get edited or marked? …that someone must be adding to the pile when you’re not looking? Even those of us who are passionate about Writing Workshop face the ‘pile’ as something quite daunting.
So how do we provide the powerfulness of writing workshop, individual writing conferences, and the monitoring and acquisition of writing skills without getting overwhelmed with the paperwork (or the multiple versions that students hand in)? Part of this answer may be in using Google Docs as a tool in the writing process. With Google Docs, you can create documents, spreadsheets and presentations. All revisions to writing are saved allowing for comparisons between versions of work – a definite plus in developing writing skills. You are not dependent on having students write drafts, type it out and hand a paper copy to you or worse, email it as an attachment. Google Docs as well as other programs that use the web as storage (so you can access anytime, anywhere) is part of the journey of “cloud computing“.
How does this work?: Students create a google doc account to store all their work. A writing assignment is created using a new Doc and the teacher is invited (by email) to the Doc. This invitation grants access to write (or read) any edits or changes that are needed in the writing. Your very own internal or public mini writing conference! These are automatically saved by Google. All changes to the document is recorded (like using ‘track changes’ in MSWord) in the revision history. Ha! I can hear your wheels turning now…. You can see that this offers the opportunity to support writing, especially in small chunks by providing timely conversations.
Classes that have used collaborative word processing tools have been impressed by the amount of writing possible and the ability to direct targeted supports to specific areas of writing. You can do your edits online or you can download to your computer and work offline. No more emailing back and forth. And no more having students tell you that you didn’t edit the correct copy! All docs have a date/time stamp.
So Where’s the Differentiation? As the environment is web-based, you have some flexibility in the presentation – images can be inserted, hyperlink to other sites, video and sound files can be added to the text to support the writing process. Some teachers even like to record their voice (using a third party program like Audacity) and upload an mp3 file to the Doc. But you say – Hey, the students still need to write an awful amount of text! Why not use something like Inspiration; complete the graphic organizer and outline; then export it to Docs. This incredibly powerful program takes the guesswork out of organizing your ideas from a graphic web. A single click of a button will reveal your outline ready to expand your details. This is a tool worth spending some time. You can also use bubbl.us (an web application that create webs).
I’d be very interested if anyone is using google docs with their classes and how it’s going. How can this tool be incorporated to increase opportunities for writing practice? What do you find powerful? What do you find challenging?