Google Apps for Education – How It Can Improving Writing Instruction

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Google Apps for Education – Bringing It Into the Classroom

Google-Apps-for-EducationI must admit a teacher failing on my part. I have terrible handwriting. That clean, clear, neat handwriting so often seen in elementary classrooms does not come naturally to me. Now how does Google Apps for Education apply to handwriting?

My poor handwriting may stem from my time as a journalist, when speedwriting held certain advantages. It may stem from my paltry grades in 3rd grade cursive practice.

Whatever the cause, my handwriting has not improved much in the five years I’ve been teaching. Students regularly ask me to read aloud what I’ve written on the whiteboard or document camera. When I write notes in their student work, I’m often called upon to interpret my notes.

And since I already don’t relish grading as one of the most fun tasks of teaching, the constant need to translate my comments for students began to take a toll on the quality of written feedback I provided.

Typing up responses stapled to the front of essays replaced handwritten editing notes. These helped guide the overall direction of student essays but didn’t provide the line-by-line copyediting students often need.

I also relied more on verbal feedback, sitting down with students in one-on-one coaching sessions. The downside was, of course, that students often didn’t remember what I told them and I often simply ran out of time to meet with all my students. It wasn’t working.

An Unlikely Solution – Google Apps for Education

An unexpected solution landed in my lap recently, a solution that gave me the opportunity to provide overall feedback, line-by-line copyediting and the ability to conference with each student individually, all without having to put students through the unenviable task of interpreting my handwriting.

Last fall, the school district I work for invested in Google Apps for Education, assigning a Google Apps for Education account in our secure cloud network to each student. They can create documents, presentations and send emails within the school district community — teachers and other students.

At the same time, they began to phase out word processing programs in our computer labs so that now, students can only word process through Google Docs within Google Apps for Education.

Now, instead of providing extensive verbal or handwritten feedback on student assignments that no one can read or that students don’t remember, I engage with students right in Google Docs using the comments feature, text highlighting and live chat.

Classroom Implications

As students have become more comfortable with this dynamic, interactive approach to writing instruction, the classroom culture has shifted. Students now see writing and the sharing of their writing as a collaborative process, rather than a process done in isolation. Google Apps for Education not only makes collaboration easy it also encourages it through a seamless process.

And they don’t just share their writing with me. They also share their product and their process with their peers, gathering feedback from multiple sources.

I find my role is more of mediator, using my “master” computer to work with several students simultaneously or pulling up a student’s work on the digital projector to use as an example with the whole class.

The Common Core

Working with students collaboratively and cooperatively through Google Docs within Google Apps for Education, it helps to meet the new Common Core State Standards, which 45 states have now adopted.

The new standards place an emphasis on utilizing technology in meaningful ways, in full understanding of the demands the 21st century workplace will place on our future graduates.

The writing standards in particular address the need to build our students’ capacity for using technology. Writing Anchor Standard 6 for 9th and 10th grades specifically calls for students to:

“Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products, taking advantage of technology’s capacity to link to other information and to display information flexibly and dynamically.”

The 11th and 12th grade standard adds that students should also be able to “update individual or shared writing products in response to ongoing feedback, including new arguments or information.”

So not only did using Google Apps for Education improve my writing instruction, it also better prepares me to address the rigorous and exciting challenges of instructing students in the Common Core State Standards.

And, much to my relief, no one has to suffer any longer through my sloppy handwriting.

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