Over the last couple of weeks I have used Google Drive to facilitate writing activities during our day in the computer lab. We have one day per week in the lab, and the students always seem to have a little extra pep in their step when we use the computers in class. At the level I’m teaching, the students have just moved past writing simple sentences and are working on improving their basic paragraph writing. We have written paragraphs together in class and they’ve written paragraphs on their own as homework, but I thought it might be interesting to utilize Google Drive during our lab time to allow students to practice typing and formatting their paragraphs while also having the opportunity to interact with other students’ work by giving and receiving feedback online.
Allowing students to work on their paragraphs in real time while the teacher or other students provide feedback seems to have brought a larger awareness of their writing and each student’s writing process. It’s interesting, as the teacher, to watch students write their paragraphs in real time to see how which aspects they focus on first and which aspects of writing are sort of after-thoughts. One student I have likes to type all his sentences without capital letters and punctuation, and he goes back and adds them later. Other students type everything and then format the paragraph (double-spacing and indenting) at the very end of their process.
Through Google Drive, I am able to highlight mistakes easily (usually in yellow) without necessarily divulging what kind of error they have made. The students are usually very apt to correct the mistakes immediately, and they often do not need further instruction. I just delete the highlighting once it’s corrected. There are occasions where students do not understand what kind of mistake they have made, and during these instances, either myself or another student is able to explain their ideas in the chat bar on the side of the document.
With regard to the chat bar, my students said they found it quite difficult to ask questions of other students via the chat. However, they seem to be improving, and I can’t help but wonder if that simple communication is helping their basic reading comprehension skills. All of these thoughts are based on my own intuition, not research, so I’m saying this with a hint of skepticism. Since engaging in the “no talking, use chat” method of feedback during these activities, my students seem to slow down and take their time reading the feedback that they receive, whether it’s from me or another student. While giving feedback on student writing, I was able to highlight mistakes or areas of interest and add comments on the side that give further explanation. For some of our activities, I asked students to type their paragraphs the day before we were in the lab so they could work with my feedback on our lab day. I’ve been rather amazed at how quickly they are picking up the language used in the feedback. Even if they don’t understand every word in the feedback, they are almost always able to understand and make the appropriate corrections.
In addition to typing full paragraphs and doing peer review online, we have done a few activities where the students have to work together to type simple sentences as well. Today we did an activity where students were asked to write sentences about someone’s schedule, answering the question, “What is she going to do?” We have been focusing on using the “be going to” construction to talk about the future tense, and this activity was meant to provide an opportunity for students to write sentences using that construction while reading information from a calendar. They were also supposed to focus on using the correct preposition before dates and times (at 4pm, on May 9th). The students were split into two groups of three students each (yes, my class only has six students this term). Each student had a copy of the same calendar, but each student had different events on different days of the month. Each student had to write three sentences (one for each even on their calendar) and then the students could work together to correct any mistakes they might have made.
From my perspective, students were more easily able to notice mistakes that others had made during this activity than they typically are when we work with pencil and paper. Once again this is based on my intuition and perceptions, but perhaps this is due to the fact that each student was working in the same document, and their own sentences were right next to those of the other students. If one student felt confident in his writing, and he saw another sentence that didn’t fit the construction pattern, he was likely to highlight the mistake. Once again, there were instances where mistakes were not noticed by the students and I highlighted them in the text.
After our Google Drive tasks, I had a brainstorming/discussion session with the class about how they feel about using Google Drive for these types of writing activities. I asked them to think of things they liked, things they didn’t like, things they thought were easy, and things they found difficult about using Google Drive. After the discussion, these are some of the ideas we came up with:
- students can work together
- students can help each other write
- students can practice spelling
- students can correct friends’ sentences
- students can open Google at home
- teacher can correct mistakes and answer questions via chat
- students can joke between friends on chat
- each student had his own color when typing
- students can work together from hom
- writing changes quickly
- we had to make a rule about waiting to edit until everyone was done typing (so students weren’t correcting unfinished sentences)
- some students found it difficult to know where to save files & where to open them (navigating files)
- making sentences
- asking questions
- asking for help with spelling (How do you spell….?)
- using chat was more difficult to communicate than using voice
My students all said they enjoyed the activity, and while I can see them getting bored with any activity implemented too often, their level of involvement and motivation did seem higher than more typical writing workshop activities.
I can’t help but feel that the students may also benefit from the exposure to Google Drive, as our particular university has recently adopted Google Apps quite extensively (from email to the cloud). It seems very likely that they will encounter such programs in their future education, whether that is at our current location or another American university.
Through these activities facilitated by Google Drive, I feel that my students have gained some valuable experience in giving and receiving feedback. Working on these activities has also focused our attention on the language being used and the language forms we’ve been covering in class. One of our class learning objectives for this term is to be able to read other students’ writing and respond (in a basic way with teacher support, and I think these activities have allowed us to achieve that learning objective.