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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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

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

Representing the Writing Process with the Version History

Note: I’ve heard this mentioned elsewhere, so I’m not claiming to be the originator of the idea.  One place I heard it mentioned was in Episode 21 of the Google Teacher Tribe Podcast.  Another is in this great post by Eric Curts. I am, however, the creator of the GIF below.

I’ve gotta admit, I was apprehensive when Google renamed my beloved Revision History as the Version History.  I thought “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  But there is an added value in the format change – and that value rests mainly in the Writing classroom, but it applies in any classroom.

Now, you can name the versions in the Version History.  Pre-writing, First Draft, Peer Revision, Second Draft, Teacher Feedback, Final Draft, Published Version, you name it.  Students can now represent the stages of the Writing process with the names of their document versions.  With Writers’ Workshop being the trend in our writing classrooms, this seems like a no-brainer.

Name Versions of Version History Animation

Easy Citations in Google Docs

Digital citizens are constantly sharing other people’s content.  We are all cultivators of stuff.  Images, quotes, GIFs, artwork, you name it – we share it.  It is very important that we teach kids to give credit where credit’s due.

Unfortunately, students are very resistant to citing their sources when they do schoolwork.  Why?  I believe it’s because it’s a pain to do so.  Who would want to cite their source if you have to do tons of sleuth work to figure out who the original source really was?  Who would want to cite their source if you have to enter a boatload of information into a separate site to prepare the citation to put in your document?

In my book, the goal for students, especially those in middle school, should simply be to get them to cite their sources.  I’m not going to stress out about if it really is the accurate original source.  I also wouldn’t stress about them correctly placing their periods and commas in their MLA citation.  I just want them to recognize that the content is not their own and that the originator deserves credit.  Google Docs makes that easy with two tools.  Let’s check them out . . .

Using the Explore Tool in Google Docs

This will only work for resources on the web (not books), but it’s super easy to use.  It creates footnotes, which I’ve heard aren’t commonly used in K-12 writing.  However, as you’ll see in this animation, you can easily copy those footnotes and turn them into a Works Cited.  Check out this GIF to see how:

Using the EasyBib Add-On

This tool is great for citing books, but not as good at citing websites.  It keeps track of your entire bibliography until you’re ready to add it to your doc.  If you are using the Explore tool for your websites, you can just combine them when you’re done, just like I do in the animation below.

Disclaimer: I’ve heard from a few sources that these two tools do not always produce 100% accurate citations.  In my opinion, as stated above, this is a risk that I’m willing to take, at least until students are in college prep high school courses.

Text on Both Sides of Images in Google Docs

When you look at newspapers, magazines or newsletters, you often see centered pictures with 2 separate sets of text on either side of the image.  However, when you center an image in Google Docs and set it as Wrap, the text continues horizontally around the image.  This may be useful sometimes, but in general, doesn’t look like what we’d see in a professional publication.

Now, Columns in Google Docs can help you with this, assuming that you want only 2 or 3 columns and that you want them to be equal widths.  But, what if you want more columns?  Or widths that aren’t equal?

Well, here’s the hack for you.  Create a table, put the picture into the table and use the remaining cells to type your text.  When you’re all done, set your table borders to 0 point (a.k.a. invisible!) and you’re good to go.  Check it out:

Docs Text on Both Sides of Image Animation

Suggested Edits in Google Docs

This post is about a useful feature that most people don’t notice in Google Docs: Suggesting Mode.  This is fantastic for students doing peer revisions or even teachers collaborating on projects.  It allows you to show people what you think should be changed, without actually changing it.  The choice is ultimately theirs.

I recommend this when students do any peer revisions in class: if you’re suggesting a specific grammatical, punctuation or word change, use Suggested Edits.  However, if you’re giving more general feedback or suggesting a change be made, but not identifying what to change to, use a Comment.

Anyhow, here’s how it works: Up in the top right corner you’ll see the word or icon for EditingCommenting or Viewing.  Click on that and switch to Suggesting.  Now, act as though you’re actually editing the document (type, backspace, etc.), but your “edits” will show as “suggested edits.”  Awesome!

Suggested Edits in Google Docs Animation

Differentiation in Google Forms

Google Forms are great for collecting information and delivering assessments, but did you know Forms had some differentiation swag?

Yup, it’s true. Use “Go to Section Based on Answer” with a Multiple Choice question to have right answers and wrong answers lead to different sections. A general mockup of what this could look like, and steps for creating it, are below the GIF.

Differentiated Google Forms Animation

Steps:

  1. Add a question with a correct answer and (at least one) wrong answer.
  2. Add a section after that question.
  3. Put your remedial content in that section. YouTube videos work well.  You could even make your own video to put in there.  You could also include a follow-up question to give your students a chance to re-assess.
  4. Add a section after the remedial content.
  5. Put your next content here.  This is the section where students who got the correct answer will land.  It will probably also be where you have students who completed the remedial step will land.
  6. Go back to your initial question.
  7. Select “Go to Section Based on Answer.”
  8. Have the incorrect choice(s) go to the remedial section.
  9. Have the correct choice(s) skip to the section after the remedial one.
  10. Sit back and enjoy the differentiated learning experience!

General Layout:

  • Section 1: includes the question the differentiation is based on
  • Section 2: the remedial section – whatever content you want the students who got the previous question incorrect to see (video, explanation, follow-up question)
  • Section 3: the “next step” – the slide that the students with the correct answer jump to, also where the students with the incorrect answers land after completing the remedial section.

Note: you can add multiple levels of this in one Form, but it can get hard to manage.  I once created a Form that went: Question 1, Remedial Video & Question 1a, Remedial Video & Question 1b, Question 2, Remedial Video & Question 2a, Remedial Video & Question 2b, etc.  As you may guess, I had to create a complex flowchart to make sure I had everything jumping to the correct places.