Using the Comment Feature for a Text-Based Discussion

I presented students with a document to read as homework. They returned with three to four passages highlighted as ones they considered the "most important" to helping to understand King Lear, or to understand the reading itself. You can view the document, or watch this video. You can also click the image of the document below to see the same video tour of the commenting feature.

As you can see, GoogleDocs helps you organize your commentary, saves what others have said, and identifies usernames of those commenting to allow for both evaluation and accountability. For students creating a final draft, these comments can be removed or "resolved," or, as in this case, the comments serve as collaborative notes th
at students can return to for studying purposes.

Showing Progress

One of our Spanish teachers asked her students to keep a document that they store in their online Google Docs Portfolio. You will notice improvement from item to item, and you will also see the commentary left by other students along the way. These documents were created over the course of a few weeks. Such a record can be useful for students to reflect upon the growth they have made throughout the course.

Thinking Made Visible, But Only Temporarily

Have you ever participated in a chalk talk, where you are all given markers and asked to jot ideas down on a giant sheet of paper or on a whiteboard? What happens to those? One thing we know is that those giant sheets of paper are less than effective for being permanent repositories of the excellent thinking that goes into their creation. Instead, they likely end up in the recycling bin after asking someone to "transcribe" all the scribbled notes--if they get that far. Worse, what happens when the "chalk talk" happens on an actual chalkboard or whiteboard? It gets erased. Wiped out. Gone forever. Maybe somebody takes a picture of it. Like this chalk talk designed to activate prior knowledge about World War I:

How will the kids know what they learned beyond their prior knowledge if this isn't saved somewhere?

The Google Docs Solution

Yep. Google Docs. Instead of this mess, let's use a document that we've invited all our classmates to edit with us. No bumping elbows or being limited by the space left on the board. I wonder if the teacher noticed before posting this that one student wrote "Turkey has AIDS!" and another noted that Germany was apparently experiencing Bieber Fever at the time. Google Docs records the usernames of all who post, so accountability is increased for student ideas. For the example below, I asked students to read a student response to an AP Literature prompt. I told the students the essay score high. Each group worked independently to talk about the strategies the author used that made the response successful. They then copied and pasted their responses onto a shared document that resulted in this table. We ended by talking about how all students tended toward the same characteristics that made the presentation successful. The best part? This document is still in the student's online Google Doc portfolio.

Here's a chalk talk that makes sense. We can return to these ideas anytime, because the document lives in Google Docs and we all share it.

Revision History & Accountability

One of the great management capacities of Google Docs is that it tracks changes to documents based on the username associated with the Google Doc account. In other words, if a student adds a comment that is inappropriate, off-topic, distracting, or otherwise something you would normally need to address, Google Docs will tell you exactly who entered the text and when. It's called the Revision History. Because Google Docs saves EVERY edit in real time, nothing is ever really lost. Even if a student deletes all the text from a document, it's not really gone. It's just the latest revision. Every revision is saved as its own iteration of the document. If any student ever tells you: "I did it, but it's not there," they're lying, unless they lost internet connectivity during their editing--but Google Docs tells you that, too.

The list to the right indicates all of the revisions. Note the time stamp and the color key attributed to each user.

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