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How Google Docs has eliminated the "rough draft"

Written by Evan Williams
January 23, 2012

I was lucky enough to be a part of a Google Docs tester a few years ago. Our district, this year, has since, adopted Google accounts for our students — minus the email, gmail, account. I am happy to return to a practice I discovered while using Google Docs on a limited basis. 

When students log in to their accounts and start writing, they must “share” their story with me. Once I have been granted access, I have the ability (as does anyone with access) to read what the student is writing WHILE they are writing. We simultaneously have access to the same document. This is helpful because while a student is immersed in their work, I can catch any errors, ask questions, give suggestions, etc. as the student continues to work. 

By the time the student is “finished” with their first draft, it really hasn’t become a first draft at all. Instead, this piece of writing (for me, newspaper and yearbook stories which will be published in some form, so they need to be top-notch) has become a true working document. I tell my students that it’s more organic this way, that I don’t collect a rough draft, mark it up, and then hand it back to them. 

I use a great comment feature (ctrl + alt + M). I highlight a piece of text and ask a question, make a suggestion or just mark “sp?” next to it. It becomes less work for me, and more work for them to take ownership of the writing process. They don’t just hack out some garbage rough draft knowing that I will resurrect it with my red pen. Hopefully, while they go through their story and I make random comments, they begin to think about their story WHILE they are writing it (since I am able to comment as their fingers tap the keys). This way, maybe they are anticipating what I might say next and resolve those issues before they ever become an issue. 

That could be high hopes, but, hey, it could be happening. I would ask, but seventh and eighth graders are not exactly great at the art of meta-cognition. 

If you have the ability to use Google Docs in your classroom, stop having the students print out their papers in Microsoft Word or Pages. Have them share their paper with you so you can comment and open up a side window on your computer and start your OWN Google Doc that highlights choice words and phrases from your students so you can showcase those to the students and celebrate their writing before you “hand back” their papers with grades.