Workshopping With Google Apps

One of the best things to happen to the classroom in a long time is Google’s Apps for Education. There are hundreds of ways to incorporate these apps into your class, but where I think Google Apps really shines is when they are used for collaborative writing. Here is how I use Google Apps for collaborative writing workshops in my classroom.

mind mapping software

Above is the handout I post/give my kids when it is time for a “scribes’ quest.” I call it a quest because, as you can see in a previous post, my class is gamified. While the flowchart should make it somewhat self-explanatory (hopefully), I do want to talk about a few things.

I really like using Google Forms for evaluation and reflection. You can see, I ask my students to self-reflect on their essay before they begin the quest and at the end of the quest. I think this is important because kids aren’t confident about their writing (nor are most adults), and what makes writing “good” is so subjective, making kids reflect on their own work a few times during the writing process is good for them. Students often don’t know how to feel about their essays until they’ve read their classmates essays. The wide range of feelings they have in the beginning of the process are even more interesting when compared with their post-quest feelings. I’ve noticed many students are overly critical of their work at first, but, by the end, they realize their papers are better than they thought. Also, the reflections really help them start to understand their own strengths and weaknesses, which is important so they can ask for specific help and spend their time more meaningfully when they revise their work later in the process.

I think a big part of why the reflections do the kids a lot of good comes from the fact that I take that mid-quest evaluation form students fill out and, after reviewing it and hiding student names, push it to the whole class to view. That means every kid gets to read all the comments made about all the papers in the class, not just the few comments they get from the one or two people who read their paper. This helps them get a good idea of where their peers are strong or struggling. Knowing this, they then can look at their own essay more critically. It helps too, I think, that I use Google’s built in charts to show the kids the general “feel” of the class as we write each individual essay.

The evaluation form is also valuable because using Google Forms allows me to have students copy specific evidence and paste it in the evaluation sheet. Much of each essay’s evaluation sheet is different (while the reflections stay the same) depending on what I’m looking for in that particular essay, but some questions always stay the same. For example, one of the first evaluation form questions is always to find, copy, and paste the thesis of the paper they’re workshopping into the evaluation form, then rate it on a scale of 1-10, and finally rewrite it a different way. So, that means later, before the post-reflection, a student can compare their thesis to the twenty-nine-or-so other theses their peers wrote and see how theirs compares. Additionally, With the evaluation form not only can I have students find examples from a lesson I just taught, like find five pieces of evidence that supports the thesis or three examples of figurative language, but I can also have them analyze, evaluate, and/or get creative by asking a variety of questions.

As always, everything I do is a WIP. Any questions or suggestions, feel free to drop me an e-mail or post a comment.


Bonus Stage Unlocked!

Here are two helpful tips you should know when working with Google Apps:

On a Google Form, If you have students input their period in one field and then in a separate field input their name in (last name, first name) format, when you sort them by period it will also alphabetize them by last name within their periods. This makes it way faster to use in conjunction with your grade book.

Another handy tip: learn how to freeze columns, so when you scroll your Google Sheet the students’ names always stay visible.