Setting It All Up
Going digital was not as simple as just telling students to start writing online. Our school already had plenty of experience using Google Docs for planning and administrative purposes; we also knew how the open-ended format could lead to general disorganization. Below are some screen shots of how I set up the original Writing Doc Template for our students. The complete template, plus a more thorough presentation on how I designed it, is linked at the bottom of this page and elsewhere in this resource.
One of the obvious advantages to using Google Docs was that the year-long assignment could live in one place. With printed papers, I was frustrated with how students could literally toss out the work after it had been returned, along with all the edits and feedback they had received along the way. By keeping multiple assignments in one doc, every part of the writing process could be preserved, and students would be naturally encouraged to revisit past work — they would literally have to scroll past it before composing something new. The basic guidelines for the assignment would live at the top.
The next issue was what to include in the template that students would use week to week. I wanted a system that would both show more traditional “rough draft” and “final drafts,” while still using the dynamic commenting and editing functions in Google Docs — more on that in the section of this resource about peer editing. The rough draft was a space where student peer editing would take place, and then my comments would go on the final. This choice flat-out ignored the beauty of the real time editing that Google Doc allows — but I felt that having snapshots of different drafts would be more valuable to students when it was time to reflect on their process.
The rubric made it onto the template with only one key change from the old version: I removed a place for a “final grade” and instead gave a number grade for each category, slipped in after my typed feedback. With this change, students took more notice of what I had written (and if they really wanted to know what the total was, they had to do a little math and add up the points earned in each section.)
The last section was a long-held wish of mine that Google Docs helped make possible. After the rubric came space for a follow-up assignment and also a place for students to reflect on successes and goals for next time. This is the last thing students would type in this essay cycle, and the first thing they would be looking at when it was time to paste in a new template and start all over again.
I also carefully planned how these assignments would be managed from my end. At the start of the year, students created google docs with a specific title that included their name, and I immediately created folders for each class in my own Google Docs account. Feedback and grades went out in real time; if students were late turning in work, I would star their doc for later reference. Google Docs made it easy to know when the assignments had been updated, because the document title would switch to bold type.
While I tweaked this system throughout the year, the core template and organizational system stayed the same, and students quickly became comfortable with the process. Having some previous experience with Google Docs made this possible for us — spending some time playing with different docs and organization methods will help you find the system that works best for you and your students.