The First Days is a series of blog posts aimed at new teachers, or teachers just looking for ideas or reminders. The purpose is to help in the establishment of a solid foundation on which you can build an awesome school year. This is by no means a definitive list. The best way to fully prepare for the year ahead is read as much as possible, open your mind, commit to the idea of change, and to proactively seek out experienced colleagues willing to share their best practices. Hopefully, the ideas below will be one of the steps on your road to awesomeness!
Do you work in a 1-to-1 Laptop or BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) school? I do and last year was my first year working with devices full-time in the classroom. Google Docs was my best friend last year….and (for a brief time) a bitter enemy. The purpose of this article is to help you avoid my mistakes/misconceptions and to start your academic year off right.
Google Docs, for those unfamiliar with the product, is a word-processing and sharing platform. Like MS Word, you can create written documents. But, Docs is online-based and connective, so the user can access their work online from anywhere, and work with any number of partners simultaneously. Best of all, it has a Revision History function that allows you to see when and how a document was changed.
For teachers, using Google Docs is a must. Imagine having students work on a writing project where you can – live – watch the work as it is written and you can comment/offer questions or advice. Imagine having students submit work via Docs, saving paper. Imagine having students work with partners who are not even in their particular class period. Imagine students using Google Docs all year and, by the end of the year, having a virtual portfolio of all the work they created. Imagine so much!
To take advantage of all Google Docs has to offer you, a little bit of advance setup is required. For instance, it would be wise (organization wise, that is) to set up Google folders for each of your classes. For me, I teach four blocks. So, I set up class folders for each block. Then, within each block, I set up a folder for each individual student. Try to do this before the first day of school. I use my LED projector to show my students, on day one, how Docs is organized so that they begin to understand my expectations and how our class will work.
Now, I teach 8th grade and my incoming students will have spent all of 7th grade, last year, using Google Docs with most of their teachers. Last year, I assumed that all of that 7th grade experience meant that my incoming students would be experts in using Google Docs.
This meant problems since I had sent aside very little time for explaining/getting folders shared. Ugh!
Now, sharing is the main challenge with Docs. When you create documents and folders in Google Docs, you have options in terms of who you share them with. Ideally, you will need to ensure the individual folders you create (for each student) are shared between you and ONLY that particular student – all within the overall class folder. This can be tricky and time-consuming. The best way to do it is to:
- Create your class folder. Then, using the sharing options, share the folder with all of the students in that particular class. There is one main benefit of sharing it with all of the students – you can create a document and post it in the folder. Then, all the students in your class can access it. This saves on photocopying resources/time. You no longer have to spend prep time lining up at the copier!
- Within the class folder, create individual folders for each student in that class. Sadly, there is a hitch. When you create folders within the class folder, each folder becomes visible and accessible to EVERY student in the class folder. You do not want this to remain so – in this situation, every student will have access to all of the documents in their peers’ folders. Most kids will respect this situation. However, the jokers will use the access to mess up their friends’ work. To avoid this sh*tstorm, you will need to do a LOT of work. Take my advice and do it yourself, and well before the first day of school. What you need to do is go into the share options for the individual folders of every student. Then, you delete the access for every student EXCEPT the student who should own the folder. So, by the end of all this, every student individual folder will be accessible ONLY by you and the particular student. Do not try to cut corners on this. Don’t try to do it live and in class. It will be a nightmare. Be proactive and have it all set up in advance.
Even when you take the time and do it right, headaches will arise. For instance, some students will go in and change their share settings, adding other students. I don’t know why. Their friend, now connected to their folder, will inevitably mess things up “for a laugh”. You will not laugh.
Here is the worst situation – some students will manage to delete their folders. This is a disaster, especially if it occurs later in the year, when they have lots of work stored in their folder. All of a sudden, they will not be in your folder view. And, you will lose contact with all of their work. Sometimes it is simply a case of them cutting you out of the share option (which theoretically is not possible as you, as the creator, should be immune to this). In those cases, you get re-added to the folder access and – voila – you see everything again. Other times, the work has “vanished” and is gone. For students in this boat, you may have to kiss that work goodbye.
*IMPORTANT – If some students are using Google Docs through Apple’s Safari browser, they may encounter glitches. For consistent results, have all your students download and use Google Chrome while working with their folders and documents.
Other things to keep in mind:
Collaboration – what is great about Google Docs is that students can share documents with their peers, even those peers not in their particular block. And that opens up all sorts of opportunities in terms of collaboration and peer-editing.
Plagiarism/Cheating – sadly, Google Docs sharing also means students can cheat and plagiarize in a much more convenient fashion. Take advantage of the Revision History function to see who is doing what and when stuff happened.
Live One-on-One Support – ever have students who ask you read their lengthy work, while they are working on it (wanting to know your thoughts/ideas/etc.?). These students are thoughtful and awesome, but they unknowingly take you away from other, equally (or more) needy students. So, what I did was to read their work remotely, from my desk. This way I could satisfy their insatiable neediness and (behind their back) check in on other students.
Google Docs is an amazing tool. But, to really benefit from this tool, take the time and set everything up in advance. Book time in your lesson plans to show the folders to students and walk them through it – and book LOTS of time (more than you think they will need). Time spent early in the year means fewer headaches later. Future You will thank Now You later!