Google Drive & Research Essays: Monitoring the Writing Process

Even though I am “techy,” I always espouse that it’s never technology all the time. In fact, my classroom is always a hybrid environment. As such, my students write traditional research essays. As we recently implemented Google Apps for Education at Ransom Everglades School, I elected to do the entire writing and revision process within Google Drive. Here is how I chunked out the process and used Google Drive to better track my students’ writing process.

All Work Must be Written Within Google Drive

One of the benefits of drive is that it allows you to import documents from other platforms (such as Microsoft Word) either by converting them to a Google Doc or

Screen Capture of "Revision History"

Screen Capture of “Revision History”

using Drive as Cloud storage. However, this would defeat my intention of better watching how my students’ essays developed. As such, I required that all work be created within Google Drive itself. Students were not permitted to important or copy and paste.

I did this because I wanted to watch how my students’ writing evolved throughout the assignment using the “see revision history” feature. This feature allows you to see how the document progressed – when content was added, changed, or otherwise revised.

Chunk out the Assignment into Steps

I believe that larger projects should be “chunked out” so that students work on the  process – focusing on the necessary elements step by step rather than trying to throw everything together. As such, students had to submit to me: A thesis statement, Annotated Bibliography, Detailed Outline, Rough Draft, and Final Draft all through Google Drive. I explained to them my expectations on each of the assignments and showed them how I would view their process using the track changes feature. I believe in being transparent with my students – I let them know why this process was important.

Peer Review with Comments Rather than Changes

One of the biggest changes for students (and teachers) in revision is that you’re doing it on screen – this means you cannot circle and underline, rather you highlight and comment. Still, it lends to a different focus in the revision process. Some students like to correct spelling and grammar for their peers. However, I find that when developing writing skills, it is always better for the author to make the adjustments and changes themselves. A such, I instructed students that if they noticed a lot of typos, they should leave a comment directing their peer to proofread. If a phrase was awkward, they should leave a comment explaining why the phrase was problematic and suggest that the student rephrase it.


Providing Feedback to Students

One of the best features of Google Drive is that it allows me to leave student comments in a variety of ways. I wrote an article a little while back entitled “Google Drive: A Better Method for Giving Student Feedback.” It highlights the fact that by working in the cloud, students and I can engage in a conversation as the comment process is no longer static. Additionally, it provides both me and the student greater flexibility in the process. Another cool feature is using Kaizena to provide voice comments within a student’s a paper.

Watching the Evolution of Writing

The best feature of Google Drive is that, using the track changes tool, I can view the evolution of a student’s work. Overall, the writing process is the most important element of the work. Even if a student’s final product is not up to par, I can look at how often they worked on it, what changes they made, how they addressed their peers’ and my critiques, and overall how their paper evolved over time. Additionally, it provides greater accountability for the students – they know that they cannot just throw the paper together at the last minute, as I can see when content is added.

Fringe Benefits

Some of the greatest advantages of using Google Drive is the fringe benefits: less paper (greener and fewer items to lose), less time comparing rough and final draft changes (I used to have to turn page by page), and saving student’s work! A student emailed me distraught because her computer had crashed halfway through her paper. She said she didn’t know what had been lost or how long it would take to repair and was hoping I had copies of the work she had done. I simply responded, “Did you write it in Google Drive?” She quickly responded, “Oh my gosh yes! It’s there!!” Crashed systems are no longer a risk!

11 thoughts on “Google Drive & Research Essays: Monitoring the Writing Process

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  3. Tim

    Great article Jennifer! I couldn’t agree more that Google Drive has transformed the way we can give feedback to students and see the entire writing process. In the past, I would have students write a rough draft and final draft. Only students that were motivated would seed additional help. Because of the transparency and efficiency of Google Drive, we can give more continues feedback to all students. Thanks again!

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