Tomorrow begins week two of the 2011-2012 school year. One of the tasks students will be expected to complete for Tuesday is the creation of a Gmail account. While the majority of my seniors already had Gmail accounts, the same cannot be said for my freshmen. And, for those students who did use Gmail, very few of them had ever used Google Docs, the free office suit that allows you to create text documents, spreadsheets, presentations, surveys, and pictures, in addition to providing users with online storage for their documents.
One of the greatest benefits of Google Docs is, aside from the cost (free), its ease of use. All one needs to create a document is an Internet browser and an Internet connection. Work is saved automatically to the cloud, which is a huge benefit for students who are working on assignments both in school and at home. Google Docs also allows for easy collaboration, as multiple users may access and edit the same document in real time.
For the past three years, my school has placed emphasis on helping students transition from 8th to 9th grade. Aside from teaching content, all freshmen teachers are asked to explicitly teach organizational and study skills, as how students study is almost as important as what they study. Google Docs, I believe, is a crucial tool that will help students stay organized as they further develop their academic personas.
While Google Docs is a tool that students can use for all of their classes, Blogger is a tool that, at least initially, can be best utilized for English class. Because Blogger is run by Google, once students have a Gmail account, they're ready to create their own blogs. In 2007 I began using blogs as a way for students to share writing and provide each other with feedback. When you're writing for an audience beyond just your teacher, there's a little bit more incentive to see that your words accurately convey your ideas.
As a student, I certainly cared about grades, but I think I cared more about what my friends thought of me and my ideas. As a writer, having a real audience to read your work and provide you with feedback is invaluable. My role as a teacher is to model for students how to constructively respond to their classmates' writing. If I am successful, they will begin to look for the kinds of things that I would look for. And eventually, they'll be able to turn that critical eye on their own work.
Depending on students' previous exposure to the writing workshop model, this can either go smoothly or be quite arduous. Either way, we'll eventually get to a place where we feel comfortable sharing constructive feedback aimed at helping each other see how well our intentions for a piece measure up with reality.
Google Docs image by Lucia Agut