"Write about a time when you did something that changed your life."
I was a new teacher; I didn't know any better. Since then, though, I've come a long with how I teach writing. One major influence (in fact, the KEY influence) is a wonderful lady and dear friend, Gretchen Bernabei. (find her stuff here and here). Her ideas of developing kernel essays, flipbooks, ba-da-bing sentences, truisms, and a myriad of other writing tools are amazing. It saved writing instruction for me. Prior to that, with prompts like the one above, I'd get bed-to-bed essay.
"First I got up. Then I went here. Then I went here. Oh, and then I went here. Then I went to bed."
But Gretchen's ideas, and my desire for something new, changed all that. My students' essays instantly became more authentic with her methods. My wife, who is also a teacher, and I would sit around the dinner table reading our class essays laughing out loud. And not because of how bad they were either! We were laughing at how engaging, authentic, and frankly, beautiful, they writing had become.
But it still didn't change the fact that I still had to grade these piles of essays...
This year, I've been on a personal mission to use less paper in my classroom. I thought, "How could I combine this idea of using less paper with how I grade?" With each essay turned in, I was printing an equal amount of rubrics. The comments I'd write on papers would go unnoticed and if they were noticed, they'd become forgotten. The whole process seemed cold and distant. An exercise in futility, really. I wanted to make the feedback process more collaborative and one that created an environment that fostered thoughtful, reflective writers.
Enter two magic pieces of technology: Google Docs/Drive and Screencast-o-Matic.
So how do I use the two, you ask.
1. When it's time for Final Drafts of whatever essay we're working on, I have my students email me their document. If they use Google Docs (not all of my students use it yet), then they share their Google Doc of their essay via email. Google Drive/Docs is awesome in that when you receive an email with a word doc, you can add it to "Your Drive" and edit it online.
2. When you edit it online, it gives you the option to add comments to areas of the essay that you select. When you click on the highlighted area of the paper, it brings up the comment along the right side. It looks something like this:
I set my frame around the Google Doc and the comments section. Simple enough.
I press RECORD and start addressing the student. I tell them what I saw in their essay, areas of their essay that I loved, areas where they're falling short, and do a quick little mini-lesson that is specific to their needs. It could be grammar, content, a specific writing craft that we're learning in class--whatever!
Here's an example video of one of my old students. She needed help with her IB Literature paper and this is how I critiqued her.
It's truly a differentiated, student-specific, memorable, and quick way of critiquing and grading.
Once I write the comments, it takes me no more than 10 minutes to capture the video, load it onto Screencast's website, and share the video link and commented Google Doc to my students.
There's no red pen, no looming stacks of paper--just some typing, my voice, and some mouse clicks.
What do you think? See another way of using Google Docs and Screencast-O-Matic in your classroom? Let me know in the comment section below!
For the kids,