I have dedicated this blog post to Tara Seale because I owe everything I know about using Google to teach to her wise counsel.
Here's what I was able to do with my AP English Language and Composition class. The assignment combines a lot of exciting elements from student self-assessment to guided process writing.
First, the basic assignment: I've been doing Mentor Text writing assignments since I started teaching, I just didn't have a name for it until after this past NCTE conference. This assignment asks students to read a professionally written text and then try and mimic it in style. This mimicry helps the student practice writing like the experts, helping them integrate professional skills into their amateur styles. The result is a more finely tuned compositional style, one with greater maturity and clarity.
I asked them to write a holidays-are-crazy style essay based on a "Shouts & Murmurs" column written by Larry Doyle titled "Is There a Problem Here?" The original can be found here.
Students read the piece (once in class, once at home), analyzing for Doyle's use of rhetoric; students were asked to also pay special attention to the elements of voice (diction, detail, syntax, imagery, figurative language, and tone) and the four basic elements of satire (irony, hyperbole, …, …). We read, they highlighted, we discussed, they took it home to reread.
Then, students had to draft their rough drafts. They needed to mimic Doyle's satirical style while focusing on some aspect of the holidays. Here is where the technology really came into play.
Before I go into how I used the technology, let me explain each component. All of these programs are located in Google Docs. The first is the Google document. This program is just like Microsoft Word (with some exceptions...it isn't Microsoft after all). The Google document features collaborative typing and pop-out chat, great tools to help guide students with their writing - in real time!
The second program is the Google form. These are great. Seriously. Imagine a world where you can create any information gathering form you want/need and then have that form generate a spreadsheet with the responses. I created a student survey earlier in the month and now I have actual telephone numbers for all of my students' parents.
For the assignment, students drafted their holiday craziness essay on a Google document. Then, they evaluated themselves based on a rubric I created on a Google form (you can see the rubric/form here). The idea was to have the students assess their own writing based on effort and perceived achievement (based on an A - D scale). Then, students wrote reflections justifying the choices they made in their writing and their assessment. Finally, students revised based on their assessment of their work. I will conference with them once we return to school on Monday (or, snow-willing, after the holiday break). The resulting Google document flowed from a draft, to a reflection, to a revision, showing thoughtful, process-oriented writing from beginning to end.
So, what did I get out of it as teacher?
First, I got instant feedback. The responses from my survey/rubric form dumped into a spreadsheet. I could see where students thought they stood in terms of their writing at a glance. I could also see what they liked about the assignment and their writing (a voluntary, extra box that nearly every student filled out).
Second, I got the ability to have writing conferences with my students without giving up class time. Using the real-time editing and pop-out chat features, I could have individual writing conferences without having each student come to my desk while the others worked on whatever. Additionally, I didn't have to make one stroke with a red pen.
I am sure that there will be many more advantages to using these programs. I really didn't expect to discover the versatility and utility I've already experienced.
As a side note, Google has a program called Knol. It is a collection of people's knowledge on different topics. I searched the Knol database for Huckleberry Finn and found a four minute synopsis video of the novel done in Legos. It...was….awesome.