3 Lessons for Feedback & Tracking Growth in Google Docs

Monday, November 9, 20157:50 PM

This week, I returned my second writing major writing assignment of the school year. I’ve taught in a Google Apps classroom for a few years now, but I still learn something new or reconsider an old norm all the time. I love that Google Apps are a work in progress, too, and are constantly growing and evolving. Generally, I’m a big fan of building a strong foundation with students, so I start the year off with a lot of small, focused, and formative writing. I usually find that this pays off by the time the summative pieces start rolling in, but always requires a lot of attention to feedback and a big push for students to revise their work.

As I returned their recent assignment on Google Classroom this morning, here are the lessons I reflected on:

3 Lessons

1. With Feedback, Sometimes Less is More

I’m big on my comments and feedback and I probably provide too much of it sometimes. I’m a believer that when technology makes things more effective or easier, we should take advantage of it, and I love how Google Classroom helps do this for me. For example, I know that most 10th grade students have issues using quotations correctly in their writing. I might make a formative or summative comment in their docs, or even add feedback about it on the assignment in Classroom, but when I see a trend, I don’t spend much time commenting on it anymore.

Instead, I provide specific feedback that can really help the student grow as an individual writer, and then isolate 1-2 trends to review as a class. By targeting these trends, students can then go back and revise their work, become more active editors, and take control over their own development as writers. Teachers don’t need to make the same comment on 80 students’ papers when one e-mail, mini lesson, or reflection might be easier and more effective.

2. Comments vs. Suggestions

The Suggested comment feature in Google Docs is a powerful one. Instead of simply adding a comment to the margins of a doc, it actually makes changes that the editor then needs to accept or reject. It’s incredibly powerful and can save so much time and effort. Do I need to explain in writing how to fix the quote when I can model it with a quick suggestion?

But Suggested Comments scare me, as I reaffirmed today. If students accept my suggested changes, are they experiencing growth and metacognition? Or are they blindly clicking the check box because the teacher must be right? There are times where suggesting that additional comma is the best practice, but I much prefer inserting comments the old fashioned way when providing feedback. It may take a little more time for me, but it puts the onus of reflection and revision on the student in a more active and meaningful way.

3. See New Changes

This is the game changer for me right now. I allow my students to revise ANYTHING, provided that they meet a strict set of guidelines for how and when they revise. Feel free to read my Revision Policy and my recent post, Managing Late & Revised Student Work in Classroom & Forms for more. If a student is working hard, it’s more important to that they learn than when they learn, so strategies for tracking changes and growth are a must.

I read and gave feedback on all of my recent revisions today, exploring the See new changes feature for the first time. Find the button on the Google Docs menu bar pictured below.

For a collaborative Google Doc, clicking the button will show you all of the changes since the last time you viewed the work. While it’s similar to the Revision History, for a teacher looking to track changes in revisions, it’s so much more powerful. Usually, the last time I view a student’s work is when I return it before revision, so seeing the changes since then is perfect. Additionally, it shows how many changes were made and links back to the full Revision History, too. See the screenshot below:

The green text shows the edits for this work. The student has fixed citations, crafted more specific statements, and shown clear improvement in proofreading. And all of that evidence is so clear with the click of a button. I’m not ready to throw my revision procedures out the window, but See new changes is a great thing.

More Lessons

I often describe Google Apps as living and breathing. They evolve and change--usually for the better--and push me to learn something new all the time, which can then help teachers and students learn better, too. I’m looking forward to exploring more of the recent changes to Google Docs and other Apps and writing about them here.

How do you manage feedback in Google Docs? What lessons have you learned?

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  1. Hi, I am putting together a workshop on using Google for Assessment and so appreciate your post as I explore using commenting and suggesting. Would you mind if I linked and referred to your post during my workshop with teachers in the Olympia School District? I am also interested if you have a protocol with your students in regard to how they treat your comments. Do they need to respond to each one? If they disregard your comments, do they need to explain why? Do they have the option to delete your comments? I appreciate your thoughts.

    1. Hi Sharyn! Please do share!! Thanks for reading and for the comment.

      My protocol depends on the purpose. When I comment and return work, I do not require them to do anything unless they plan to revise. I do find that many students choose to resolve the comments. For peer editing, sometimes I do ask students to respond to one another. They can delete/ignore comments, but I always check the history if I suspect that they have ignored meaningful suggestions to improvement, and grade accordingly.

      I also do a lot of my formative peer work on Google Communities, where students do respond to each other and revise in more depth, so that eliminates my need to such a protocol here. I definitely see the benefit of those kinds of expectations, though.

  2. Adam - I live for the "See New Changes" button. I give screencast feedback to my students, so when they revise, I go right to that screen for the next screencast. They've stopped turning work back in that had one word changed! ;) Thank you for your perspective on "suggested edits." I had not tried that yet, and it sounds like I won't be trying it soon...