Tag Archives: writing

Suggested Edits – My Favorite Tool in Google Docs

Suggested Edits MenuIf you assign writing assignments to your students, then be sure to learn how to use “suggested edits.” Suggested edits is similar to “track changes” in Microsoft Word. To turn it on, simply click on the Pencil (with the words “editing” next to it) and select “suggesting.” The menu will turn from grey to green.

Now, when you make changes to a document, they will show up as “suggestions” rather than direct edits. Users can even write notes to one another on the “suggestions” comments. This is a great way for multiple users to edit the same document or for students to do a peer editing exercise.

Suggested Edits


The Power of Screen Time! Reading, Writing, & Devices

The next session I’m attending is “The Power of Screen Time! Reading, Writing, & Devices” by Beth Holland. I’m excited for this presentation because I helped Beth edit and revise her Edutopia piece, “The 4Ss of Notetaking with Technology.”

There is a common theme in research, articles, and newspapers on “devices” being bad for “x activity.” However, as Beth says, it’s not the device! It’s what we or are students are doing. She also said that we’re not going to talk about “going paperless” because, as Shawn McCusker says, “Paperless is a bureaucratic preference, not a learning objective!” This is how we justify costs to our bureaucrats.

Beth now tells us her story (telling your story is a theme today). When she was a college student, she was trying to write a paper on a Mac. Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 9.41.26 AMHowever, the Mac wasn’t cooperating with her and she wasn’t getting her assignment done. However, in the bathroom, she came across a roll of paper towels. She then rolled it out and used it to write out her work. It was the right tool for her at the right time.

So the technology that she had to build her project (paper towels and markers), but had to complete the process in the Mac. The moral behind this is that we are not going to put our technology on a pedestal. So many people claim that the tools are “interactive,” but it’s really electronic whac-a-mole. It has no objective.

Beth says that we need to focus on process vs. product. She shows us a clip from the film Finding Forrester

So what part of that scene was writing? The punching of the keys or the process of getting content out of your brain and onto the paper.

Start thinking about the process of writing! Let’s start with

Writing 1.0

Students organize and draft on paper, submit it to the teacher, the teacher annotates the paper, then students get it back and may or may not keep that paper. This is a straight forward and one dimensional process.

Writing 2.0

Writing went digital! Students can draft digitally. You can even draft in a non-linear pattern, using mind-mapping tools, create a storyboard, etc. Students and teachers can collaborate and incorporate tools. You can use multimodal feedback (audio, video, etc). The final product can even be shared or published!

Writing 3.0

Now we have a mobile devices. Beth asks us, who writes on their smart phone? The small screen is problematic as we have to slow down. However, we have this everywhere. Students can organize and draft (using multi-model tools) from anywhere. Students and teachers can then collaborate and incorporate multimodal feedback across devices. The final product can be shared, published, or modified. Beth likes to use Penultimate to draft both physically and electronically. She then shares it with Evernote and then puts it in Google Drive to share and collaborate (sometimes with me).

Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 9.49.30 AMIn addition to typing, she can talk into the device. For students with learning differences, you can speak into the tool. This is also a great way to get students to think about formation of words and sentences; like with formal poetry.

Because students all have devices, we have a ubiquitous opportunity of screens. We can see what our students are doing outside of the classroom. It doesn’t matter what the tool is, it’s that we’re starting to bring up this opportunity.

Beth now references this famous New York Times Piece, “Is E-Reading to your toddler story time, or simply screen time?” They argued:

“Parents and children using an electronic device spent more time focusing on the device itself than on the story.”

What does this mean about impact on childhood literacy? Beth argues that when we’re talking about eReading, we need to look at the behavior of reading. So “what could reading look like?” In the New York Times, what they argued was that the value of reading should look like this:

Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 9.54.53 AMSo if we’re looking at multi-media eBooks, the issue isn’t the device, it’s the behavior. Perhaps not look at multi-media eBooks as a “book” but as something else. Students can read a text on a digitized device. So think about how students are reading, not the device. Start to bring together the digital and the analogue.

Beth now highlights TodaysMeet, a tool for backchanneling. This a tool that allows students to collaborate behind the scenes. In a class where students were reading about the Holocaust, the teacher asked students write down questions as they popped up in the reading on the Today’s Meet.

Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 9.58.18 AM

By setting up the Today’s Meet, he got input from students who were normally silent during class. He gave students a voice, even in a quiet room. Using the screen in a meaningful and powerful way. These tools can give students a voice and extend the experience to outside of the classroom. These are not possible without paper.

Asymmetric Impact

When thinking about screens and process, realize that it’s not the same thing with every person and every child. Start thinking about different students and their individual needs. You may have a student that needs to look up every word in a story. With a built in dictionary, you can “tap Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 10.05.24 AMand know” (Shawn McCusker). You can even manage dictionaries. On a web browser, you can clean up the view and remove the ads or increase the font size. You can also “find” on the screen to look up the information that you’re looking for on a page. So if you want the population of Liberia in 2010, you can go to the website and search using “find” for the population. This allows students to focus their reading. Students can even look up words in context. Technology allows for differentiation at a higher level. Anything that is text can be heard by students. This is a great way to improve learning outcomes for younger students that are struggling with literacy.

Pen or Keyboard?

There was a prominent article called “The Pen is Mightier than the Keyboard.” After having students listen to a lecture-based class and take notes via hand and keyboard. After the lecture, students took a test and they found that those with handwritten notes did better. However, they did not do an assessment later. What would have happened if students were assessed at a later date? Is it the keyboard’s fault or another example of the right tool for the write task? This is similar to the debate over quill pens and ink pens.

Beth highlights the fact that we have a lot of choice and variety. The reality is that it depends on the student, learning style, and task. Beth references her article in Edutopia (link at the top). Digitized notes allow you to save, archive, curate, and reference it easily later (via search tools). How often have we had a student put their English notes in their Science notebook? If that student could search his notes would that help him? Would that facilitate that asymmetric impact? We need to empower our learners. Can you save, search, and share your work?

Beth finishes up with the point that we need to find balance with using screens. There is a book called Screen Time by Lisa Guernsey. She argues that it’s about balance. Do we want kids watching 5 hours of Scoobie Doo every day? Probably not. However, it’s balance. The questions you should ask are: is it appropriate, meaningful, and empowering?



Voice Comments on Google Drive With Kaizena

Google Drive is one of my favorite tools (in case you cannot tell). I love that it limits the paper use in my classroom, encourages collaboration, and allows me to give more meaningful and substantive feedback. One of my favorite features is the ability to provide vocal feedback via the third party application Kaizena.

Screenshot courtesy of Kaizena

Screenshot courtesy of Kaizena

Kaizena has just had a major upgrade/overhaul that makes it more stable and substantive. It also plays nicer with firewalls (so you can use it on campus). Kaizena allows you to login with your Google Credentials (no extra passwords). You simply highlight a section and record (just like leaving a traditional written comment).

One of the new features that I like is it allows you to attach a lesson or a video to a common problem – if you notice students struggle with a concept (such as formulating an effective thesis), you can simply attach an established video that you use to help clarify it (Kaizena will even remember that you do this). Such a time saver! If you would like to learn more about their updates, you can read their blog here. You can check out a demo of Kaizena (the older version) below:

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!

Art/Write Connecting the Common Core with Art History

University of Arizona Mascot, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

University of Arizona Mascot, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Many thanks to my friend and colleague Daniel Schneider for bringing this project to my attention. The Art/Write project out of the University of Arizona’s Museum of Art helps high school students to examine and write about art critically. Additionally, the projects highlighted there meet Common Core standards for writing.

“Writing requires careful observation, critical thinking, analysis of ideas and events, and of course creative thinking. When engaged with a work of art, students must also utilize the skills of sustained observation, imagination and interpretation. This web resource provides looking and writing activities that allow students to develop strong looking skills that in turn foster effective writing.” – Quote from Art/Write

If you teach art or are looking for ways to liven up your writing curriculum in conjunction with the common core, be sure to check out Art/Write.

How the Stair Master Made me Socially Awkward – or was it Facebook?

I have never been a runner…. ever. However, I realize the importance of exercise and make an effort to stay in shape… most of the time. Two ACL surgeries have firmly put me in the ‘low impact’ category of exercise and I have found my cardio main-stay on elliptical machines and stair masters. I get a solid workout without my knee swelling up like a cantaloup. I have used a stair master regularly for at least 15 years… maybe more… at least since my formative teenager years. These many years of using simulated stair-machines have now rendered me helpless in the face of physical steps. I stare at them confused, uncertain of my next move – how do they work? Why don’t they move? I will sometimes stand helpless for hours as I wait for a light to turn on and let me know whether I will be moving up them in “cross-country” or “random” mode while recording my caloric expenditure. I have seen many times that I am not alone. See these poor people trapped on the escalator!

I now fear that my decade long use of the elliptical machine is beginning to affect my gait and that my casual ambling down the street will be the next victim in this long stretch of simulated activity machine incapacity. It won’t be long until free-weights make me unable to lift objects around the house – oh wait, I already have that ailment (or so I tell the friends that I request to come over and ask to carry boxes for me).

This hyperbolic string is part of an exchange I have continued with my friends, peers, and colleagues are a regular basis. Sometimes, these conversations are carried out almost entirely via text message.  Still, in spite of the fact that I regularly exchange jibes and jokes and basic communiques via text messages with friends and family, we also chat on the phone and, when we find ourselves in the same town, even get together for a meal or a drink – a real, in life social interaction.

Why am I making this ridiculous point? Well, one of my greatest annoyances about the complaints I hear bout the rise of technological communication is that it hinders and even stunts real-life, social interaction. I hear this remark from my colleagues, friends, families, and online (irony highlighted) all the time – FacebookTwitter, text messaging, and email have turned us all into socially awkward troglodytes incapable of basic niceties beyond grunts, crude gestures, or poorly spelled exchanges.

Studies and assessments on the topic are often inconclusive or even contradictory. You can see the article by Common Sense Media, “Are Texting and Tweeting making our Students bad Writers?” or the PEW research study “The Impact of Digital Tools on Student Writing.” I can, however, highlight my own observations (as a consumer of electronic media for most of my life) and as a teacher of both the socially advanced and hindered. So, let me tell you a little about myself – I Facebook, I tweet, I email, I text, I blog, I play World of Warcraft (yep, that game), I list serve, I message board, I instant message, I Skype, I iChat, I LOL and if it’s really funny I’ll even RFLMAO. I also go out to wine tastings, have dinner with old friends, travel to Europe with colleagues, go on Southern California Adventures with friends. I have friends (in “real life”) that I’ve known for a year, and those that I’ve known for 20 (and a multitude in between). Other than my crippling social awkwardness around celebrities (sorry Eddie Izzard and Dr. Drew), I am actually a pretty social person. Texting hasn’t rendered me incapable of visiting my friend Michelle in San Francisco – in fact, it helps to keep our relationship on the front-burner as I can send her quick quips when they jump into mind. And when I see her in person, we catch up where we left off.

The world we are in today (for better or worse) is much different than  the past. We live far away from friends and family; our peripatetic lifestyles make it virtually impossible for us to keep up with all of the important people in our lives, spread out across the globe, using ‘traditional’ methods. However, with new media (like Facebook) I have been able to see my cousin’s (who lives 1,500 miles away) baby bump photos grow every week with a smile on my face. I get to see my niece’s growth in between visits – her Easter Dress and Halloween Costumes. She live 2,000 away from me, so I miss many events. Facebook, pictures and video messages have helped me to stay involved in those important moments in her life.

Now, I am not saying that I have not seen “socially awkward” children dive into Facebook or Twitter as a sanctuary from the frightening world around them. That is true. In a way, “online” provides them a safe outlet within which they may develop their own persona and thought out responses outside of the physical realm. Not ideal, by any means, but not the first time that this has happened. Before Facebook and Twitter, these were the kids who played Dungeons and Dragons without end or buried themselves in their parents basement with the ham radio. Some were clever enough to find “acceptable” escapes such as reading for hours on end and avoiding interaction with their peers. Children with social awkwardness do need special attention and often must be gently pushed into uncomfortable situations to help improve their abilities to get along with other human beings. This isn’t a new problem.

I propose that the idea that social awkward/technology promote social ineptitude is all wrong. Technology doesn’t cause social awkwardness in teenagers. Kids aren’t ‘forgetting how to write’ because of texting or unable to communicate face to face because they send emails. The reality is that technology and social media are tools – tools that can be used in many way. You can use a hammer to bash in somebody’s brain, but it also works really well for hammering in nails. I have witnessed social butterflies become monarch social butterflies using Facebook and Twitter. I have personally experienced an expansion of my own professional learning network (See my article: “3 Ways to Kickstart your PLN“) using social networking sites (not at the expense of my personal interaction).

In my experience, social media becomes a problem for those who already have a problem – it further exacerbates an existing issue. However, for the mainstay it’s another tool – an expansion of our already social nature.

Google Docs & Research: How-To?

Google Research Pane

Google Research Pane

The last session I am attending is “Google Docs & Research: How-To?” given by Christopher Craft, Ph.D. As I am using Google Drive with my students for an upcoming research project, I’m excited to learn more about the tools available here.

When students are doing research, they sometimes struggle with citing their sources or moving beyond a quick search with Google.com. The Google Docs Research Pane helps to facilitate searching for and citing sources. By going to Tools –> Research, the Research Pane pops up on the right hand side! You can search Google, images, scholar, quotes, and dictionary! By dragging and dropping certain content (e.g. images), not only will the material appear, but a footnote (in MLA, Chicago, or APA format).

Google Image Usage Rights

Google Image Usage Rights

A great element in using the Google Image search is that, when teaching students about copyright and usage rights, you can limit the Google Image search to “free to use or share.” This is key for work that is going to be published online. I highlight the need to address licensing in student projects in my article: “How to Find License Free Content for School Projects.”

Remember that this tool is not perfect. Students may need to fix formatting or bibliography. For example, if you do not want students using footnotes, they will have to revise the document to remove the footnotes and use in text citation. For my students, they would need to revise image citations for full content, such as for a work of art.

Another great tool for sophisticated research is Google Scholar. It is both a stand alone feature as well as a search option on the pane. You can look up academic content and, so long as you have access rights (e.g. via Jstor) you can read and include the citation properly. If you have not yet played with Google Scholar, it’s worth a look. Here’s a good introductory video (it’s 40 minutes so grab a snack!).

Screen Shot 2013-10-20 at 3.26.03 PM

Insert Quote

You can also search and input quotes! Not only can you find relevant quotes, but then it will put it in the document and then cite it. Again, it will cite as a website, so if you would like your students to format differently, then be sure to have students revise and edit!

These features also work on a shared format as well. This means that if you have a group of students working on a research project, you can see who added what and when. So is one student doing all the work and the others slacking off? Is Joseph doing research on Jstor but Stephanie is spending all of her time on Wikipedia? I like that this not only lets me see the amount of material students are contributing, but the quality of that research.

Screen Shot 2013-10-20 at 3.37.22 PMAnother key feature is that by looking at the revision history, you can look for plagiarism. Using revision history, see if students are adding in chunks of texts or individual words. Using your own judgment, you can then select a section of text and do a quick search. If students create a bunch of citations at one time, then you may want to pull that student aside and ask them how they incorporated their research (Did they carefully revise and add footnotes as they went?) to see if that meshes with how the citation appears in the document. This is also a great tool when you consider  the “document translation” feature. If all content was added at once, the student didn’t translate, they used the tool to do it for them.

There are a few draw backs to using the research pane. For example, there is not a way to seamlessly integrate outside research. If students are using books in your library in addition to web resources, they cannot easily include that in the research pane. Google Books is not currently integrated in the research pane either. They will have to manually input content and material.