As an English teacher, I spend a great deal of my time reading what students have written, and trying to help them sharpen up on both the content of their arguments and how they go about saying something. The traditional weapons of an English teacher, a red pen with which to make annotations in the margins, pales into a poor second place when compared with the power of Google documents, though.
I have been using Google Classrooms for my grade 8 English class, and I have found that it has a number of advantages, and some drawbacks.
Google Docs represents a powerful way in which teachers can comment on student writing, and give feedback, both in real-time, as a student is busy writing, and in a more traditional way, after the assignment has been turned in. Both of these affordances, being able to comment while a student is writing, and the space a teacher is given to make comments, represent huge advances on what is possible with pen and paper. Students battle to read my handwriting – heck, I battle to read my handwriting! Since comments are typed in Google documents, it is a great deal easier both to write a comment and to read it!
When making comments in a margin, space is at a premium. Often I find myself pushed to summarise a point. Google documents, however, allows a teacher to make lengthy comments: the margins expand, if you like. You can also edit a comment, without making unsightly additions to a comment. This alone makes using Google documents preferable to analogue feedback.
But the most useful feature is undoubtedly that documents can be shared between peers allowing for collaborative writing, and feedback by peers, as well as teachers. This allows students to comment on each other’s work, and simultaneously receive feedback from the teacher both during the writing process, and after a final draft.
By contrast, Google documents is very poor at traditional grading. It’s not easy to go through a worksheet submitted on Classroom, for example, and tick correct responses, and mark incorrect responses – tallying the ticks at the end. To my mind this is a good thing! We teachers reach too readily for this type of grading, and do not use genuine feedback and formative assessment often enough. If Google makes it hard for us to do it, maybe it will discourage us!