4 Tips for Assessing Growth in Student Writing in Google Docs

It’s safe to say that most educators agree that feedback should be given to students not just at the end of an assignment, but also during.  Many educators would even say that the “during” feedback is more important, especially in writing.  But, how do we do that efficiently?  Reading & assessing student work twice takes up lots of time.

Well, I have 4 tips that I think can help.

By comparing a rough draft (or earlier draft) to the final draft (or most current draft), the teacher can assess the changes being made and decide if additional changes are necessary.  It’s also a great way for teachers to see what areas for improvement students are and are not catching.

Google Docs offers some great functions for doing this.  In this post, I’ll share 3 tips with you to help with this process.

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A Google Slides Hack to Replace ChatterPix or Blabberize

This idea–a true moment of educational duct tape (using technology to solve a classroom problem or goal)–actually came to me while recording an episode of my Educational Duct Tape Podcast!

In Episode 5, I played a question that Linda Hummer shared to the Educational Duct Tape Community FlipGrid along with Abbey Thomas’ answer.  Linda’s question was, essentially, what is an alternative to Chatterpix that works on Chromebooks?  Abbey’s answer was Blabberize. And the question was answered!  Or, so I thought…

After the episode aired, Dan Gallagher shared on that same grid some words of caution: Blabberize’s Terms of Service indicate that it’s not appropriate for all ages.  So, in Episode 6, I shared this and then, on the spot, found a hack for a solution:

I’ve posted about #StopMotionSlides a number of times (here are my tips for making them) and they make a pretty good solution for this.  Put a picture into a slide, use some careful cropping and then leverage a stop motion technique.  Not only can you make the mouth move up and down, but you can then publish the animation (#13 in these tips) and then record them with Screencastify (or your screencasting tool of choice) with a voiceover (#14 in these tips)!

Voila!  Not as easy as Chatterpix, but at least it eliminates the need of adding another tool and another set of terms of service to what you use with your students: you likely already use Google Slides & Screencastify!

Plus, unlike ChatterPix or Blabberize, you can have multiple characters, your characters can move, the scene change…  You–and your students–can get super creative!

Here’s an animated GIF of the process, followed by a step-by-step breakdown.

Google Slides ChatterPix Blabberize Hack Animation

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Add a Popup Message to your Google Docs

Ever wish that you could tell people something when they open up your Google Docs? Maybe “Make a copy of this document, answer the questions and share it with your teacher!” or “This is a draft!

Well, it’s possible.  Some simple coding in the script editor and you can make it happen.  I know that some of you are thinking “Simple . . . . coding. . . !?” while making this face, but it’s true.  Just follow the steps below and you’ll make it happen.

Before we jump into the how, or what it looks like, a few notes:

  • Only Editors will be able to see the popup.  In my testing, someone who is “can view” or “can comment” does not see the popup.  Also, they have to be explicitly shared as editors, not just “anyone with the link can edit.”
  • If you copy the document within your own account, the popup will appear on the copy as well.
  • If someone shared on the document makes a copy, the popup will NOT appear on their copy.
  • If you send the document out on Google Classroom as “Make a Copy for Each Student” it will NOT include the popup in those copies.  I was bummed when I discovered this, because it would have been huge for teachers.

Now that you know those notes and limitations, let’s dive into it.  First, an animated GIF of how to do it and then, below the GIF, the step by step with code that you can just copy and paste.

Add Popup Message to Google Docs Animation

Step-by-Step Instructions:

  1. From within your Google Doc, click on Tools > Script Editor.
  2. Click on Untitled Project and rename the project.
  3. Replace the words myFunction with onOpen. (This is what tells it to run automatically)
  4. After the { type DocumentApp. (include the period)
  5. From the menu that pops up select getUi : Ui
  6. After {DocumentApp.getUi() type a period.
  7. From the menu that pops up select alert(String prompt) : Button
  8. In place of the word prompt type your popup message.
  9. Add quotation marks around your message (and inside of the parentheses).
  10. Click the save icon.
  11. Go back to your Doc, refresh and check it out!

Another note: You can actually edit the appearance of the popup with some HTML and CSS coding, but that would take me longer to explain that 1 GIF can handle!

Credits: I learned this from one of Google’s Applied Digital Skills Courses in the “Code Welcome Screen” Activity.  You can learn about adding some formatting to your popup in that course.

SketchUp on Chromebooks!

When my friend Dave Ternent and I started teaching a middle school STEM course back in 2012, one of the first tools that we selected for the course was SketchUp.

SketchUp is a free 3D modeling computer program made by Trimble and, for a while, owned by Google.  It was the perfect introduction to 3D-modeling, architecture and engineering for middle schoolers: powerful, but relatively easy to learn.

After seeing the awesome Matt England present at a local tech conference about his use of SketchUp with middle schoolers we even had information from someone who had used it about how to best introduce it.  Matt was kind enough to share his resources during the session.

Based on Matt’s information, we had our students make shapes with certain dimensions as they learned to use it (see image).  After that, they moved up to creating a 3-hole putt-putt (mini-golf) course that fit within a certain area (see image).  They got very creative with those courses, which is great, but you could also extend this to tons of curriculum standards!  Surface area, Roman architecture, volume, locations from literature, measurement, earthquake-resistant houses, perimeter, developing cities . . . I could go on and on.  But I stopped using SketchUp.  Why?  It didn’t work on Chromebooks.

Until recently! SketchUp is now available on the web, which means that you can use it on Chromebooks!  Check out the animated GIF below showing me using SketchUp.  Imagine the possibilities for students!

SketchUp Shapes
In this activity, students had to create certain shapes based on provided descriptions. i.e., Create a right triangle with a 5-foot hypotenuse.
Another student’s 3-hole putt-putt course, complete with a small shed for the employee & storage
SketchUp on Chromebooks Animation

 

Paint Roller Tool in Google Sheets

I’m a big fan of the Paint Roller (Paint Format) tool in the gSuite platform.  I’ve posted before about using it in Google Docs, as well as in Google Slides.  I probably use it most often, though, in Google Sheets.  I love a nice, organized Google Sheet and this tool helps a lot with that.  My favorite part about it is that it even applies to number formatting (i.e., decimal places, date format, currency, etc.).  Check it out in the animated GIF below!

Paint Format in Google Sheets Animation

Speech & Thought Bubbles in Google Drawings

On the Google Teacher Tribe podcast and on his site DitchThatTextbook.com, Matt Miller shared about his recommended use of thought bubbles (and speech bubbles) in Google Drawings.  When I first heard it, I thought – “Whoa!  What a simple, but powerful application of a technology tool.”  Think about it: students being able to comprehend a story or historical event well enough to synthesize the information back into what they predict a character/person may have been thinking or saying?  Not to mention, it’s quick and it’s much more engaging that writing it on a worksheet or in a Google Doc.  Matt recommends this as a Bell Ringer activity, which I think is an awesome idea, but certainly not the only way it can be used.

This can also be done in Google Slides–it would be neat to have each kid have their own slide–and through the “Insert > Drawing” option on Google Docs.  Just like with Google Docs, you can have students make copies of your drawing to add their own thought bubbles or you can use them as assignments in Google Classroom or other LMS’s.

Check it out in the Animated GIF below and then, after the GIF, is a published version of that Drawing, just to show how easy it is to post the completed project.

Speech & Thought Bubbles in Google Drawings Animation

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5 Ways to Link to Parts of Google Docs

There are a lot of reasons that you may want to put links into a doc that allow you (or the reader) to jump to certain parts of a Google Doc.  Here are a few possible reasons:

  • You’re creating a HyperDoc with lots of stuff in it!
  • Your students are creating eBooks and need a Table of Contents
  • You’re managing a long doc of lesson plans and want to be able to jump to different units or months
  • Your students are creating Choose Your Own Adventure books
  • You’re collaborating with a team of educators in a doc with multiple meetings worth of notes
  • A slightly different reason – sending a link in an email (or messaging system) that takes the recipient directly to a certain location within the doc

There are a few different ways to manage this and different ones are best in different situations.  Let’s check them out!

1. Using “Headings” to create linkable pieces of text

When you use the “Styles” dropdown to format parts of your doc as Heading 1, Heading 2 or Heading 3 those Headings become links that even show up in the Insert Link menu.  Check out the steps in the animated GIF below.

Headings as Links Animation

2. Copying the url for headings, titles & Subtitles

You may have noticed that in #1, I didn’t mention Titles or Subtitles along with the 3 different levels of Headings.  This is because they don’t naturally appear in that Insert Link box.  I’m not sure why.  Regardless, if you add a title or subtitle (just like a heading) you’ll notice that when you click on them, the URL changes. This is because the URL is specific to that location in the doc.  So, copy that URL and create a link with it elsewhere in the doc to jump to that spot.  Check out how in the animation below.

URLs from Titles Animation

Note: These URLs are nice outside of that doc as well.  Let’s say a colleague asks you about a specific topic that was discussed in a faculty meeting a few weeks back.  Copy the URL for the heading or title from that meeting and email it to them – then, when they click on that, not only will the doc open, but they’ll jump to the right spot.

3. Use Bookmarks

What if you don’t want to format some of your text as a “title” or “heading”?  Well, bookmarks are the answer for you.  In my school, we have a shared document for the plans for our “PRIDE” period, that all teachers teach.  We use bookmarks to make it easy to jump by month.  The biggest use of this that I can see, though, is to have students link to the locations of their evidence.  Think about it: How do I know that the character is feeling remorseful?  I can see evidence here when he says “sorry” and here when he is feeling depressed about what he did.  Add links to the spots in that document where those events happened and you can see evidence of your students’ reading comprehension.  *Boom!*  Check out the process for adding bookmarks and using them for links in the animation below.

Bookmarks in Docs for Links Animation

4. Insert Table of Contents

If you want there to be links to each chapter of your ebook (or dates of your lesson plan or agendas from your meeting…) up at the top of your document, the Table of Contents is a great solution for you.  There are two main downsides of the Table of Contents.  First,it doesn’t work with Titles or Subtitles.  Second, the Table of Contents can become really long.  But, if you want links to each of those Headings in the doc, this will be great for you, because it’s really simple to set up.  Check it out:

Insert Table of Contents in Docs Animation

5. Document Outline

The last option is convenient, but isn’t for creating links in the document itself.  If your goal is just to be able to navigate the document quickly without concern for how other people navigate your document, the Document Outline is a great solution for you.  Anything that you format as Title, Subtitle or Heading automatically goes into the Document Outline.  An interesting tidbit is that it also adds things that look like headings to this list (i.e., something bold and underlined).  Just remember: your document’s viewers only see the document outline if they go to View and turn it on themselves.Document Outline Animation

Use Preview in Docs for a Quick Whole Class Progress Check

In a blended classroom, it can be tough to see who is on and off task and know who is behind on their work.  One trick that I often used in my STEM classes was to open the Google Drive folder that all of my students’ work was in and click through the previews of their docs.  The previews weren’t always the most current version (it’s likely the status of the file when you most recently opened up Drive), but I could easily identify students who may be behind (or off task) and then open up their docs to check for sure.  It was much faster than opening all of the docs would have been!  I also used this occasionally when assigning some pretty simple grades, especially if they were completion grades.

Use Preview for Quick Progress Check Animation

Equations in Google Docs

Math & Chemistry teachers use Google Docs, too!  And so do other content areas and teachers who integrate math and sophisticated science across content areas.  And, for those peeps, there is the ability to add equations and other “mathy” symbols to Google Docs.  Just click Insert > Equation.

A quick note, before we get to the GIF: Some educators will tell you that this tool could be better.  And for people looking to use this functionality regularly, they’re probably right. In that case you may want to consider other tools (equatIO is a great one).  But for people who just use it occasionally, I think the Equation Editor is a’okay.

Equations in Docs Animation

Screencastify for Feedback

I’ve done a number of posts about Screencastify, but recently I was reading a blog post that presented an idea that I had not previously thought of.  In it, the author talks about using a screencasting tool to give both visual and auditory feedback on a student’s work.  It seems to me that this would be so much more useful for a student than just comments on the doc.  Plus they’d be more likely to view it.

Add in the ease of use with Screencastify – quickly sharing in Google Drive – and you’ve got a win-win.  Below is a GIF I made to share the process.  In the GIF, I am giving (fake) feedback on a Google Doc, but it could be anything.  I could even show how it falls on a rubric within the video!

You could even have students give each other feedback this way!

One last note – if you start doing this regularly, you could create one folder in your Drive for each of your students and then drag the videos into those folders for the students to view.

Screencastify for Feedback Animation