DigiLit Sunday: Pitfalls and Possibilities of Google Docs

slide11Margaret Simon’s DigiLit Sunday link up is a place to find thoughts and ideas on learning and teaching in the digital world.

Today, Margaret called for reflections on balance in our digital spaces.  Technology can present overwhelming and exciting possibilities, but I need to filter my use of all digital tools through a lens of literacy. I try to find balance by asking, How does this tool enhance or build on students’ abilities as readers and writers?  Today’s reflection allowed me to regain balance. Thank you, Margaret. I needed this.

I love using Google Docs in my writing life and was thrilled to get them in the hands of my students.

The first docs came into my email, and the ease of reading was wonderful. I could see teaching points readily: whole group needs to individual ones. I could check histories to see their process.

I started to comment.

And then, I stopped and wondered,

  • Should I comment at all?
  • Will this writer understand?
  • How should I follow up?
  • Am I teaching the writer, not the writing?

That last point is THE one that matters. When I look at student work, I must be vigilant in looking for the gold, the gems that I can build on. And, I must be looking to teach the writer, not THIS piece. IF I comment digitally, I must filter each thought through that lens.

With those thoughts in mind, I started.

Today I looked back at my comments and I did exactly what I feared. I taught the writing. (UGH!) And, when I gave a compliment, I said nothing about how this is something that writers do. It was just specific to the piece of writing. (DOUBLE UGH!)  And, here’s my ugly question to myself:  Have I made Google Doc comments a digital red pen?


But wait. Kids loved the immediacy of the feedback. Can I make this work?

Thinking it through…

A compliment like: “Love your introduction!” is simple and essentially wasted words. It could become: “Your introduction really sets the tone of your piece. Writers use tone to give the reader an emotional connection to the topic. When I read your piece I feel as sense of amazement and wonder.”

A comment like: “I’m wondering what causes a Tsunami? Check out Seymour Simon’s book” could become, “Writers of informational text give readers answers to wonderings to teach readers. Read through your piece with a wondering mind or even better, ask your writing partner to read and wonder. Then ask yourself, can I answer those wonderings? Do I need to do research?”

Hmm.  It’s better.

I am on a learning curve of how to use Google Docs, right alongside my students. At the very least, having their work on Docs lets me keep abreast of where they are and what to teach.

I am playing with it. Trying to be aware of the pitfalls and possibilities. For some students, it may work, for others, it may have no effect.  It’s a balancing act.

Digital comments should never replace one-on-one conferring. But, if done carefully, could they be a bridge to or from conferring? Could they provide that immediate feedback we all want for our students? In middle grade and above classrooms where class sizes are large, is it a viable option?

For those of you using Google Docs with your student writers, how do you approach the work?