Sunday, March 20, 2011

Google Apps Reflection @ Plymouth South HS

This week I was finally able to get my 9th grade students using google docs to write a paper for my World Studies class.  It has been a long process, but thankfully our district is transitioning to Google Apps for Education and the 9th Grade Freshman Academy at Plymouth South High School is 'piloting' the process for the rest of the year.  The first step was to get the permission slips signed and returned, here is a link to the document that we sent home with our freshman.

Once the permission slips were in, we hit the ground running by using google docs to write an Industrial Revolution DBQ: Effects & Responses.  My College Prep classes were allowed to pick a DBQ, my honors class had to combine both DBQs into one thesis and response (I'll write a post on that later).

Now for the purpose of this post, reflections on using Google Docs.

1. Getting Started: It didn't take long at all to get 9th graders up to speed.  The Tech Integration Specialist in our district went with the following structure for the student user name: (year of graduation)(lastname)(firstinitial)  The password structure is (firstinitial)(lastinitial)(studentIDnumber).  The students in our school already use their student ID number at a punch pad to pay for their lunch, when I told each student their password, very few of them even wrote it down as they use it every day.  When considering a username & password combination I would recommend this style.

2. Sharing & Naming Documents: I think this is the most important aspect of using Google Docs with students.  I came up with a file naming strategy that is easy to follow: (Class Period)(Assignment Name)(Student first name).  As the documents started to flood into my Google Docs inbox I could easily differentiate between classes and drag and drop each assignment into an appropriate Group folder for the class period & assignment.  A typical assignment in my Google Docs inbox looks like:
C Period - Industrial Revolution DBQ - Steve

3. Creating Groups (Folders): Before I began using Google Docs with my students, I made Groups (folder) and sub Groups (sub-folders) for each class period and upcoming assignment.  It is crucial to keep your google docs inbox organized in order to make sure everyone of your students has shared their document.  It also provides a bit of sanity as you can limit the view of your documents to a specific class or assignment.

4. Inserting Comments & Feedback: This is by far the best reason to use google docs to have students submit their work.  When students begin working I have them share the document with me and allow me to edit their work.  While they are writing I will periodically jump in and out of their papers to see their progress and process.  I use the 'insert - comment' feature to leave them specific feedback in the margins of their paper.  Instead of reading their final draft when it is turned in, leaving comments & hoping someone will rewrite their work, I can leave comments throughout the process, the students can modify and improve their work and the students received the guidance, feedback and support they need along the way.

5. Resubmission of Work: In my district we chose to not include email as a tool for students to use with their Google Apps account, therefore they can't email me to let me know if they made improvements to their paper after the 'due' date of the assignment.  The due date for the Industrial Revolution DBQ is Sunday night, and I will check in on their work, and post a grade directly in their paper.  However, I made it very clear to my students that they can use the feedback, modify and improve their paper and I will read it again.  I think using Google Docs as a platform for student work provides an incentive for students to revisit their work and improve their writing.  When students know that I can instantly see their work (synchronously or asynchronously) I think they are more likely to revisit, improve and resubmit.  But, without email I had to figure out a way to have my students inform me of improvements or follow up final drafts.  The solution: I have them modify the file name to: C Period - Industrial Revolution DBQ - Steve - 2nd Final Draft (or 3rd, 4th...).  Now, when I check the group for a particular assignment, I will be able to quickly identify who modified their work for an additional evaluation of their writing.


  1. This is great. My district also uses the grad yr, last name, first initial with student ID number for password. I have also taught them to organize their own docs with folders as well. It's like organizing a notebook. Google docs is such a fantastic way for students to write, get feedback, edit, revise, rewite. I just had major issues with inappropriate emailing and didn't know that could be "turned off" without losing the other features of docs.
    Thanks for sharing this to encourage more teachers/admins to accept a different approach to writing.

  2. If nothing else from your post, I will indeed utilize the student username structure. That has been a headache and a half with the class wiki. Mandatory email fields and custom usernames lead to forgetful students, no matter the precautions!

  3. Thank you for writing this explanation of how you use google with your students. I have all the big ideas, you know, but get so hung up on the technical parts....this was really helpful!