I am using Google documents for all writing assignments this year. The day I assign a formal essay topic, students must create a doc, title it properly and share it with me. This makes it possible for me to check their progress throughout the writing process. It creates opportunities to provide formative feedback instead of waiting until the final draft is submitted to provide comments.

The challenge? How can a single teacher with 170 students provide feedback to every student multiple times during a single writing assignment?

This is how…


Last week, I reserved the computer lab for two 90 minute class periods. During that time, I opened every document that had been shared with me and spent the entire period working synchronously on each document. 

Click to watch a screencasthttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mhxp1_5pruA

I asked students to use the instant chat feature on their document to send me questions or comments as they worked. It was ironic how much individual feedback I was able to give in 90 minutes with 30+ students working quietly at their computers.

I successfully edited every paper shared with me 2 times before the final draft was submitted. For those concerned about addressing the Common Core Standard that requires students “develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach,” this is a wonderful way to support students in this process. You are also using “technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others,” which is another writing standard!

A new student to my class as of the semester break wrote me the following email: 

Ms. Tucker,

I really want you to know how much I appreciate your constructive criticism and how much it helps me do my work. In the past, whenever I received a graded paper all I really got back was a bunch of red circles telling me what I did wrong. Not only do your comments help me from making these mistakes but they also make me feel like I am doing something right. 

Thank you so much. 

Using technology to create opportunities to collaborate in real time, meet students where they are at, and provide support during their work is an enormous benefit of integrating technology. 

So many teachers worry about technology taking time, but this saved me so much time. It took place during our class period (not at home in the evening or on a weekend), and the final papers are exponentially stronger and require significantly less time to grade.

Preorder your copy of Creatively Teach the Common Core Literacy Standards with TechnologyJust in time for summer reading!


47 Responses

  1. This is really interesting, Catlin. My first thought is how responsive it is, how recursive, but also how much time it involves us staring at a screen and typing. Actually, my first thought is how lucky your kids are to get such feedback. But it’s the response that matters, not the medium, and I think we are all wracking our brains for models as smart as yours here as we move into the increasingly digital aspect of our work. I have been doing a lot with using Voice Memo on my iPhone for feedback on all students’ papers and getting excellent feedback from them on that. Thanks for your own example here, though! Appreciate the chance to learn from you.


    • Thank you, Jim.

      You do raise a valid point. At the end of each day, I felt a bit like a hunchback, because I had literally spent the entire day intensely typing on my computer. It was not easy on my body, and I would not want to do it on a daily basis.

      That said, I compare the experience with that of grading papers, and it was exponentially more gratifying. It was so fun to see their cursor jump to a spot where I had left a comment and then watch them correct it. Grading actual papers is not easy on my body either. I also love the human interaction. The kids are so funny and so grateful. I don’t think many have received really detailed feedback during the early stages of writing.

      Take care.

  2. I use google docs with my students also–especially my Creative Writing students. I love that I can read and comment to them–even while they’re working. I can also work with them from my house while they are working at home. Great! My students know that if I have my computer up, they are welcome to chat, ask questions, etc. Google docs makes my job MUCH easier!

    • I could not agree more, Deb.

      I also love the accessibility. Many teachers fear being “on duty” around the clock, but I find my kids are really respectful when they reach out “after hours.” I regularly instant message, email and Google hangout with kids when they are struggling with an assignment.

      Thank you for the comment!


    • Thanks, Chris!

      I can’t wait for CUE too. It is exciting to be able to kick off such an incredible event by sharing my excitement about technology and how it has transformed the way I approach teaching and the way my students learn.

      I will also be leading sessions at CUE Rock Star Camp on the USS Hornet in the Bay Area in late July if you know teachers who want to go to camp with a boatload of rockstars!


  3. Hi Catlin

    I try to use the same strategy in my classrooms regularly. But I’m a bit concerned about whether the process of commenting on the students’ assignments while they’re writing might interrupt them if they’re “in flow”. Any thoughts?


    • Hi Tim,

      I always have my students come into the lab with at least one paragraph done. Then they can continue with the next paragraph as I edit the first. I’ve never had a students complain that my comments intruded on their ability to focus, but it is a valid concern. I would recommend to students that they not respond to or take notice of the comments you are leaving if they are on a roll. That may be easier said than done.

      I really like the engagement of editing while they are working on the doc, but it could be collaborative editing session instead of an editing/writing session.

      I always encourage kids to do what works for them and their process. If writing is what they need to do, then go for it. If responding to my comments is helpful in the moment when they have access to me on their doc, then that is wonderful too!

      Good luck.


      • I’d also reply here saying I’d ss are on paragraph 2 or 3 and not yet had feedback or confirmation of a sort to know they’re doing it properly they shouldn’t really be moving on yet. That’s what formative feedback corrects from the of method – all the teacher feedback was summation attached to the Grade and once a grade is attached the likelihood of them going back to improve is very low. This way we do the same marking but the feedback and direction is actually taken in. I do the same synchronous feedback while ss arw writing, but have been exploring Word doc instead of Google doc. I like the functions in word and can edit in word online while the ss watches/responds. Very similar. Undecided on which I lie best yet. I recognize and appreciate your sharing of strategies and methods, Catlin, and perk up a bit when I find you’re doing something I’m trying as well. ☺

        • Thanks for the comment, Marcy! I’m glad these strategies help inspire other teachers to try a different approach. Sounds like you and I are approaching feedback the same way!


  4. I’ve been using this model this year with all my seventh-graders after testing it last year with just a class or two. It has completely changed the feedback loop in my classroom. First, by the time the final draft has come in, a student’s paper has been read at least twice by me, as well as a few times by peer editors. For the most part, those final drafts are SOLID and I haven’t seen nearly as many low essay scores this year. I can catch a kid who is TOTALLY off very early in the writing process, instead of not realizing it until the final draft. Second, Students can actually READ the comments that people are making on their essays and make appropriate corrections and/or ask questions from within the document if they are unclear what they should do. Finally, (and most importantly for me), providing online feedback forces me to focus on the CONTENT of the paper in my comments, rather than circling every misspelled word, or adding in every missing comma. I might add a comment at the end that says, “You need to pay attention to your comma usage and be sure to fix the 4 run-on sentences that I noticed,” but that encourages kids to be their OWN editors while I then have the time to now comment more explicitly on their actual writing.

    • Hi Megan,

      I agree with you completely! Your comment about focusing on the content instead of the minutia of grammar mistakes, etc. is such a benefit. I am usually able to help them find and correct those things early on, then they are more aware as they write and less likely to continually duplicate the same minor errors.

      I’m so glad to hear other teachers have tried this and found it as effective as I have.


  5. Hi Caitlin:

    Excellent read and love your use of technology. The ability to “nudge” students, during an assignment, makes for better assignments and less frustration with students. I know as a HS student, I would have loved this capability, being redirected during, rather than weekly snapshots where time and effort can be better used (or wasted).

    You seem to have a great process down, but I would suggest having you create the document and/or folder and share it with the student, rather than the other way around. If you do small projects often, I would highly recommend taking a look at Doctopus, a small script inside Google Spreadsheet that allows you to auto share the document to the student, then run a second script to provide final feedback and a final grade, right to their e-mail account!

    Those two steps wont help the help provide feedback synchronously, but the other capability is having the 170-students document links, on a single spreadsheet. This will allow you to house all the links to their docs and move quicker than popping in and out of your Google Drive. Just a thought!

    gClassfolders has a template as well, worth a look that auto shares three folders to students, worth a peek.

    I am going to re-tweet this link and plan on following your blog. Very cool and exciting work you are doing! This blog is tremendous!

    Luke Callahan

    • Thank you for the suggestion, Luke!

      I’m always looking for ways to be more effective and efficient. The sharing and organizing of docs does take time. I organize the docs my students share in my email. Each class has a label and sublabels nestled under them for each assignment. This saves me time because I am not downloading all the papers. That has been the best approach for me with so many kids sharing items.

      I will definitely look into Doctopus. It sounds like a great script. I’m just starting to get into scripts to email and do other things straight from the speadsheets, which I am loving.

      Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment!

      Catlin Tucker

  6. As an ESL teacher who has to check essays all the time, I know that this would help. This makes the writing process easier for the students because they get real, constructive feedback. The problem with me is that I don’t get to use a computer Roo. At my school. It’s very difficult. I could take my computer into the classroom and work on their essays one by one for the whole class. This means that the students would have to agree for me to show their essays to the whole class. Any other suggestions?

    • Hi Ros,

      That is challenging if you cannot all be online at the same time. Modeling with a paper (remove the name) might make sense to show trends of erros that the whole class could benefit from, but I would not want to do that with all the papers. It would be too time consuming.

      What age group are you working with? Do many have access at home or during a free period? If you plan to edit them anyway, maybe you could ask students to sign up for a time slot (in the evening and/or weekend) when you plan to edit so they can be on the doc at the same time. Access may be a hurdle there, but it is another way to try to synchronously work on a shared doc.

      Good luck!


  7. Catlin,

    I would really like to try attempt this format this Thursday. Does each student have their own google account? Can you give me a quick, succinct run down on setting this up? Any advice will help. Thank you so much .

    • Hi Matt,

      My apologies for getting back to you a day late! I delivered the CUE Conference Keynote last night, so I was swamped preparing.

      Yes, every student has a gmail account. The night they are assigned the essay, they need to create a doc, title it properly [class name – last name – assignment title] and share it with me.

      Then I open up each doc that has been shared with me and start editing. I also leave open my email so if they have a quick question and I am not working on their doc, they can send a quick IM that dings at me.

      Good luck. My apologies for not responding sooner!


  8. This is great, Catline. My sophomores have a very important essay coming up in two weeks, and I will definitely try out your strategy.

    Two quick questions:

    Do you assign grades to their drafts? One of the biggest problems I face in my classroom is that students don’t always come in with the assigned part of their drafts completed, and this affects my ability to give them feedback. I’m debating over whether or not I should assign them at least an effort grade to bribe them to finish their drafts before class.

    Also, do your students also give peer feedback during this time, or do you feel that since you’re already editing their essays, their time is better spent drafting?

    Thanks for your help!
    Kristin Leclaire

    • Hi Kristin,

      I do give them homework credit for doing the parts of the essay that I assign separately. Example, I gave them 10 points for having completed their introduction paragraph the first night we worked on it. Most did complete it before class, but a few used the computer lab time to start their essays. I actually get more writing than I ever have because even the reluctant kids who don’t do much produce some writing. (Some is better than none!)

      I love peer editing, but I ask them to edit then complete a Google form (rubric really) as they peer edit. This encourages them to look for specific things. Peer editing can be like the blind leading the blind if they do not have any structure.

      Good luck!


  9. Thank you so much for sharing the screencast video of the collaborative edit! Can’t wait to share this with our teachers! I have talked about it with many of them but I think your video makes a stronger argument than my words 🙂

  10. Hi Catlin I was very excited to read through these comments and see what you have done. Another person suggested OneNote. Have you seen OneNote in action and what are your thoughts in comparison?

  11. Caitlin,

    Thank you for sharing your experience ! I did something similar with my AP Calculus AB class using Free Response Questions. After complaining a bit about the Math Equation Editor, students saw a value in using Google Docs.

    I used the comments feature to provide feedback since I wanted to provide an “AP Score” as well as the comments.

    Thanks again for sharing !

  12. I just wanted to let you know that this has provided a really great example to some university colleagues about the applications of Google Docs in student-teacher interactions. Brilliant stuff, and the screen capture was the icing on the cake!

    • Thank you, Chris! I love this strategy for providing feedback as students write. This formative feedback yields a much stronger finished product.

      I’m glad to hear it has been helpful to college professors!


  13. Hi! As a new department chair and Honors English teacher in a district incorporating Common Core and technology, I am living by your blog this year! I have shared it with everyone!
    I really like this idea and can’t wait to try it out. I do have one question, though. How do you make sure students do not have others work on their paper outside of the classroom? Or do you just move past this worry? Thank you for any advice you can give on this.

    • Hi Kathryn,

      I’m so glad to hear my blog has been useful to you as you transition to the Common Core!

      I really don’t worry too much about other people working on my students’ papers. I can hear their voices when I read their writing. I can tell almost immediately if a student has plagiarized their work or it has come from another source. I think on some level we just have to trust our students and our instincts.

      Good luck!


  14. hi…thanks for your great description…I’m a TEFL student and wants to write my thesis on Google Drive, unfortunately, I have faced many problems in the beginning of my work, I wonder about the feature of Google Drive which makes it different from other technologies used for teaching writing skill ??? (its superiority) what is Google Drive especially designed for? Is it designed only for peer revision in writing skill???

    Thanks in advance


  15. Hi there,
    I happened upon your post since I’ve started using Google Docs in my seventh grade class for the writing process. I’ve personalized my comments (tools/preferences) so that I can quickly add comments into student docs, but students can’t always find them easily. Is there a way to change the default text color so it pops for students as they’re rereading their drafts? We aren’t always editing at the same time so they need to be able to find the feedback.

  16. […] Three years ago, I began “flipping” my writing instruction, so students watch videos on my YouTube channel, take Cornell notes, then come prepared to class to do the actual writing. I love this approach to teaching writing! Students can watch my explanations as many times as they need to over the course of the year. Plus, I get to support them as they write in class. (See my post on synchronous editing). […]

  17. Hi! I’m just reading this for the first time after reading your “5 Most Popular Blog Posts.” I love this idea so, so much, but I have more of a generic question about editing student drafts, and I’d like your opinion. How do you decide what to edit and what to leave alone? For example, do you correct their grammatical errors or not? (or perhaps you simply note “comma splice” etc) I watched your youtube post, and I saw that you gave several students an example thesis sentence, but I feel that if I give that info in an ungraded rough draft, then they’ll always simply wait for me to “fix” their papers, and therefore never give me their best work. Am I overthinking this? Thank you so much!

    • Hi Lindsay,

      I actually struggle to limit my own editing, especially during synchronous editing. I try to stay focused on specific elements for each type of writing–argumentative, informative and narrative. For example, I look specifically at the quality of claims, data, and analysis in argumentative writing. When I am editing, I’ve found it helpful to identify 3 elements of writing to focus on and try (though I’m not always successful) to stay focused on those. That said, I also set my own preferences in Google docs and use shortcuts to save time making comments as I edit. If you want to learn more about that, check out my blog titled “Google Docs: Grading Tips & Tricks“.


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