Last year, when we finally became a Google Apps for Education school, I dove in with gusto, knowing that my students would be using its platforms all year long (ending in a digital portfolio project). This week, as the theme of DigiLitSunday is about “conferencing” in the digital age, I was thinking again about the affordances offered by Google’s suite of tools.
First of all, the fact that students invite me into their piece of writing right at the start — I encourage “comment” mode but many leave me in “edit” mode — allows me access to where they are with a piece of writing. For instance, they are in the middle of a short story (narrative writing) piece, and yesterday, I started to read the openings (our mini-lessons last week were all about strong openings), and I left comments in the margins of everyone’s stories.
Next week, as we sit down together, for a one-on-one check-in conference, I will use my notes in the margins to help guide our discussions. In this way, I am moving the process of conferencing along and giving them all something to be thinking about before I meet with them.
But I am also paying attention to the “history” element of Google Docs, and the changes that are being made to writing pieces by students before and after the conferencing. Did they think about changes and make them? Did they ignore my suggestions and move on with no fixes? I can see it all in the “history” of the document. When we talk about making revision process visible, the “history” button is the most valuable player in Google Apps space. (It also helps if something terrible happens and the story gets lost … we can always find a version of it in the history of the document).
Still, I do struggle at times in figuring out the right balance between the margins and face-to-face. I find I have to resist leaving too many notes in the margins, for fear that I am marking up the text to the point of no return for students. It’s no better than the dreaded “red pen” effect at that point.
What I want is to leverage the affordances of the digital page to spark discussions in person, so that lessons are learned and writing gets better. The digital environment helps with that, if I can be sure to couple one (margin notes) with the other (conferencing).
Peace (off to the side),