Thursday, September 22, 2016

Maximizing Docs

I've spent a lot of time these past two weeks trouble-shooting Google Classroom. Many teachers in my school have recently started using it. Many of these folks really like it. They find it intuitive and easy to use.

Google Classroom falls down, or doesn't work as well, for teachers who wish to use the Google Classroom iPad app. It is a more than a tad slow. I have tried using it myself and they are right. When grading a stack of papers, one doesn't want lag time. Also, a couple of teachers have told me they've lost comments they've written while using the Google Classroom app on their iPads. Likely this happened because they forgot to save, but in a Google world where we rarely save anything any longer, this will be a common error. Still other teachers don't like that students immediately see their feedback. They like to hold work and return in all at once. So, they don't like that students can see edits and changes on the work itself. They thoughtfully point out that sometimes they go back and change comments and grades on a paper after reading a whole stack. What a teacher may think is a great paper may change if they later read several papers that are even better. I get that. 
(For a workaround to this problem, use the  "comments" feature and use suggestion mode. These keep a teacher's comments invisible until the students get their "ownership" back when their work is returned to them.)

Google Classroom is only going to get better. I can't help but thinking if teachers knew more about the Suggestion Mode (but not at my school- we have iPads- no suggestion mode) and how to use the comments feature, some current complaints would disappear. 

I propose a paradigm shift. I understand the reasons why we want to hold our feedback until we are ready to return work to everyone. But think about the benefits of students being able to see feedback in real time. I know that I have a hard time accessing my thinking after a while. I don't remember what I was thinking when I wrote it, thus the feedback is not as powerful as it could have been if it had been returned sooner.

I always let students re-write essays. I have students journal weekly and these they cannot change. But for an essay, I've found that students are far more likely to learn from the corrections I make on a paper if they can write it again. I let them write it for full credit and a new grade. If that's too big a leap for some teachers, maybe these teachers can average the new and old grade. 

 Of course, I also urge teachers to return work as soon as they finish it. That means students will receive returned assignments at different times. But if we vary the order in which we assesses the work, it would balance out. In short, why minimize learning for all students instead of just for some students?

Google Classroom and shared Google Drive folders can let us view student work while they are working on it! Why not "drop in" on a work in progress and help the student in real time when they actually need it? Tell students, "From 8-9 tonight, I'm going to be helping you write your essays. Please use the comment feature to ask me questions."

Okay, this takes time and effort. It will also save time and effort when grading the finished assignments. Mistakes in thinking and writing will already have been corrected.

In a similar vein, did you know that there is an app for docs called Draftback? (See video and picture.) Draftback creates a "movie" of the paper being written in real time.  Besides being a plagiarism detector, it is a powerful teaching tool. Imagine watching a paper being written by the student with the student. As a teacher, I could see exactly when and how a student struggled.  

Traditionally our model has been to teach before and after students do an assignment. Technology now allows us to give instruction while a student works on an assignment. 

More fully utilizing some of these features of Google Docs and taking advantage of tech tools that allow us to teach while students are in progress will minimize some of the Google Classroom frustrations while increasing student learning. 

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