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?





6 thoughts on “DigiLit Sunday: Pitfalls and Possibilities of Google Docs

  1. I love using google docs. Sometimes I do the things you were talking about, sometimes I add a link to something that they can use as a mentor text or for more information. They love the immediate feedback and I find, for most, it’s the first time they actually read what I write on their work. I do make sure not to overdo it so they can focus on one or two things at a time. It becomes more of a conversation.

  2. I read Tara’s post first, and then yours. Both posts were brilliant! “Have I made Google Doc comments a digital red pen?” Your thoughts on teaching the writer/writing is so spot on, and your thinking processes so relevant in the digital world today. I sometimes sit at my teacher computer while kids are working to check and comment on Google Docs, and I feel so separated from the kids. I feel like I’m teaching the writing because of my lack of physical proximity. But when I sit next to them while they’re on their Chromebooks, I can’t put my comments in writing. It’s a conundrum! It’s good, though, to think and talk through the challenges and advantages of digital tools. I’m so glad you all are so smart! 😉 Thanks to Margaret, too, to provide this space for us to hash out these things!

  3. We are not using Google at our school yet. I am hopeful they will soon move toward this, but the blog is similar in that I have a digital piece of writing at my fingertips. Nothing, however, replaces the one on one feedback. I love how you thought through your comments and showed examples of how they could be better. I usually do a quick comment and not very specific. Thanks for joining in the conversation today. So many ways we can think about balance. Great word.

  4. I love using Google docs but you made such a valid point. Your reflection is spot on. You went immediately to what you know is best practice for literacy instruction. Thank you so much for sharing your thought process. I love these conversations!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s