Monday, September 17, 2007

A Twist to College Essays- Using Google Groups


Google is taking over our senior essays!

Michele Davis, Lauren Gaffney, and I were interested in approaching our senior college essay unit differently this year focusing on more collaboration work done outside of class. Typically, we have our students compose a series of essays of which the teacher responds and provides feedback to the student. For my class, my students write three essays dealing with either a crossroads in their life, how have their parents impacted them, and a who am I essay.

Over the years, I have changed the focus of the essays to meet the needs of the colleges they are applying to, but for the most part in the past, it has been an out of class, teacher to student assignment. To give myself some credit, I do have them use Word’s reviewing toolbar to peer edit one final paper in class. Also, I have them conference with me about their final essay before they turn it in so we can discuss changes one on one.

However, even with all this work, Michele, Lauren, and I wanted something more this year from our seniors. We wanted them to connect with one another and see what their peers were saying. Last year, Michele had used Google Groups with her seniors to submit their essays online so that their classmates would be able to provide valuable feedback to the posted work. After discussing how to do this, we came up with the following criteria so that our combined 5 sections of seniors could upload, comment, and read their peers work. We had some basic criteria in completing this assignment:

Post one final essay

Students can choose to post anonymously. We actually came up with a coding system of the teacher’s last name followed by a number (Smith 4).

Students could choose to use their names to post, but no last names. (Anne S)

All students needed to post their essay by the same date.

Students need to give constructive criticism and valuable feedback to at least 5 other essays. (These essays need to be students in other classes)

Constructive criticism needs to be memorable and helpful.

Try not to comment on essays that have already received feedback. If an essay has received 3 comments, move on to another essay.

I will have my students blog about their feelings on this assignment, but most really felt the process was helpful. Some suggestions that we need to think about next time we do this:
· What does constructive criticism look like? Some kids received valuable feedback while others had no comments.
· Clearer identification of who is in what class.
· Do we want to open up the essays to a larger audience?

Overall, I think we are on the first steps to a really valuable and interactive assignment. I really feel that in order for the seniors to become the best writers they need to read what other students/ writers are producing- as well as the great writers of literature (We don’t want to forget Oedipus’ memorable crossroads or was it a fork in the road). This assignment enabled them to do so. In fact, when I asked them if they would want to put their essay out their for the whole world, many said yes, but only if they could go back and make the changes that their peers had suggested as well as what we talked about in our teacher student conference.

Michele’s comments on set-up and process…
Building this site was quite simple. Google groups make it easy and user-friendly. Google groups also provide pages to help users navigate their way through the site. One such link is the Google Groups Quick Start Guide. Google groups has 3 easy steps to follow to start: 1) set up the group (name it and decide who can view the site), 2) add members (if you like), and 3) add information to your page (add additional pages, upload information, change the logo, change the access, etc.).

We decided to set our College Essays site up so that we did not have to invite students; they just needed a Google account to sign in. If students did not have an account, we had them register for one. (One somewhat annoying aspect was that every time a student puts their paper (adds a page as Google groups calls it) on the site, it emails the managers.) This was a little bothersome, but it did show us who was responding by the deadline.

Overall, I love how this site provides an opportunity for students to place essays and get feedback from multiple readers. And, for this assignment, students go feedback from students in other teachers’ classes. The benefit, we feel, is that we all teach the college essay a little differently, so students from other classes will notice different things, find different areas to improve, etc. Since this was the students’ first drafts, we did not prompt them on what to respond to; however, next year, I would like to have 3-4 things for the students to critique in particular: voice, narrative, word choice, and getting to know the student. Students, for the most part, were specific with their comments, but I think it could be more focused.
Lauren's comments on the process...
Much like anything one tries for the first time, this Google groups experiment had both successes and failures. In terms of successes, some students received up to eight full paragraphs of comments. In previous semesters of teaching the college essay, students would have received feedback from a teacher and from one or two peer editors. In contrast, this Google groups assignment provided feedback from me as well as up to eight peer readers. Another positive students mentioned was that they could edit their essays with each piece of feedback they received as the Google groups’ pages function as Word documents. If students were struggling to think of a writing topic or a way to approach the topic they had chosen, this assignment also allowed them to scan hundreds of essays for ideas.

For next year, I will have students comment on three essays instead of five so the feedback is more authentic; several students felt like five comments were too many and that peer readers started getting lazy with their feedback. In addition, I would spend a class period talking about how to give good, specific constructive criticism based on the final rubric on which their essays were graded. Another student suggested that teachers comment on the essays of students who are not in their classes so writers not only receive feedback of students outside of their class, but also receive the opinion of another teacher.

29 comments:

MilendaN. said...

I am a senior interested of going out of state for college next year. I have researched so much colleges out of state and looked at their costs for dorms, admissions,food and enrollment for 2-4 years. And most of them range to 20-100 thousands of dollars. And the idea of getting scholarships is like finding gold for me. I absolutely know that I need to apply for as many scholarships that I can find to really help me out with my college. And I believe every little thing will help. For example, the college essays that we've been writing in Mrs.Smith class is a great start so that were getting the help we need incase the scholarship we apply for needs an essay. Then we will know what to write and we will have the ideas that we need. My advice to the next class who will be searching for scholarships is to apply for 1 or 2 atleast eventhough you know your parents are already paying for it. Because then you can help your parents out and they will be happy. I have heard that so many scholarships are just being wasted every year because students just don't apply or they don't know how. So if you need help just ask your teacher or get help from your counselors or the guidance center because they will be happy to help any students. Scholarships are the best so if you havent applied yet, go do it now because it helps you save money and it is worth it!

ShainaT said...

After choosing our final essay and posting it on google groups it was interesting to read the other students papers and see which essay they chose as their best I liked being able to comment and give students my input on their papers but I did not recieve many comments on mine and that made it difficult to edit

Charliep said...

It was helpful to get to see other students doing the same topics as you. It gave you some great ideas and you were able to help all of the students better their papers. I found the comments for my essay very helpful and they helped me to make my paper the best it could be. It is a great idea and I would do it for others papers anytime.

brooksk said...

The conceptual idea of peer editing on a technologically advanced level is definitely present, but the right mentality not instilled. I think that for many students, it was just a simple mindset of, "Ok, here is the link and directions to getting on, comment on this many papers..." (with no other guidelines). I think with a few simple adjustments, this peer commenting can be utlized as an excellent learning tool and will be extremely valuable to the writing skils of students. But what needs to be done? Personally, although this is an ego booster to some degree, it doesn't help the improvement of my writing at all when somebody says, "that was excellent, don't change it at all." It would be extrememly beneficial to every student if our teachers would provide us the exact structure of criticism they want to see and implement the necessary steps to positively assure we are critiquing and editing each others' writing in a positive yet helpful method!!! How to do that is up to the teachers, but if those objectives are reached, then this commenting will evolve into a serious tool in writing and will be appreciated by any student needing constructive criticism.

stidwell said...
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samt said...

Personally, I thought posting our essays online was a great idea because technology has been able to allow us to do more with schoolwork and get more out of it. I think that the best way to really get what you want out of this is to get the students interested. The comments that I received on my essay were just “good job” or “I really liked it.” It made me feel as if they didn’t even read it and just put down a comment just to get their homework done. My personal philosophy about learning is that as the student you have to want to learn and you have to be willing to put in the effort. I don’t mean to bag on our senior class, but it is full of kids who are just cruzing by with minimal effort. I’ll be honest, I struggle with that also, but I look at myself apart from most others and see that there is a difference when it comes to school for me. That difference is that I try my best to become active in my learning and to become active in the classroom so that I can try to get the most that I can out of it. I think the 21st century teaching has been a huge plus and also a huge minus. I think that because for me, this teaching style gets me interested and it creates a love of learning and diving into the material we learn in class. I see it as a minus though because it is making school easier for the kids who don’t really give a rip because they can fake that they are liking what they are learning and like is said just cruze on by. I don’t think as teachers you should worry about these kids because it’s their learning and their future and if they don’t give a rip now they probably won’t give a rip later and overall it’s their own responsibility. But for those who are diving into their learning, I believe it has greatly helped because it makes things more interesting, and for me I need to enjoy what I learn to earn a good grade.

Leigh J said...

As a not so technological student, I found posting my essay and commenting to be quite difficult at first. With a glich that I seemed to not be able to log in to make comments, I was frustrated that I would not get credit for doing the assignment when I really could do nothing to help that. Once able to log in, I felt that the criticism I recieved was not as constructive as I hope. Maybe it would be better to have teachers comment on the essays. I also found this to create a lot more out of class work. Overall I think that the technology is great but it will take some transitioning to get comfortable in that area.

emilyl said...

This was a very helpful way for editing, because as mentioned, we get a lot more opinions on our essays from many different types of people, instead of just a teacher and a few classmates. Using Google groups allowed us to fix any part of our essay that was confusing or needed further explanation. I do think teachers need to stress the idea of USEFUL comments more (maybe everyone should take the oath), and if a student can't find anything wrong with the essay by just reading it, then they should read it again and maybe try to find something that could use a little tweaking. Also, I don't know how you could fix this, but the comment boxes would cut off your comments if they got too long. The last thing is the deadline for comments. I just looked at my essay again, and some really important comments had been posted, but not until after I had turned in my paper. I really did like the process, however, because I was able to read other student's essays, and sometimes they helped me with the format of mine. I think we should do this with more of our essays, if not all of them, because it will get to the point where everyone is getting very helpful comments to make them a better writer.

MrONeal said...

Hello,
I am a technology teacher in Harrisburg, PA and receive Jim Gates tips and this one really caught my eye. I try to introduce as many free online resources as possible to my students but run into problems relating to email and filters blocking online email software. I have used (and love) many of google's tools and would like to incorporate them into my classes but students are unable to create accounts. My question is have you run into any problems with your security (your IT department) and allowing or requiring students to create accounts?
Thanks
Tony

sook said...

Posting essays online was an interesting way to see the other people's essays. It allowed me to collaborate with others. I liked reviewing the essays and offering some advice. However, I did not have many comments on my essay, and some of the comments were irrelevant like "this was good".

alliem said...

I found that posting your essay so that people could comment on it is a really good way to recieve constructive critcism. It's anonomous so you know people really mean what they say. Also it is so much easier than having someone edit a hard copy.

alliem said...

I found that posting your essay so that people could comment on it is a really good way to recieve constructive critcism. It's anonomous so you know people really mean what they say. Also it is so much easier than having someone edit a hard copy.

kmckeon said...

I liked the idea of the comments on the essays but I didn't find them very helpful. People wrote things like "great essay" and "very powerful" but that did not give me the constructive criticism I needed to better my essay. I think next time; there needs to be more rules on what is necessary to put in your comment on an essay

karmk said...

Since I was one of the Seniors who did this, I thought of it as very helpful and a great idea. I am not that great of a writer, and to hear what other peers had to say about my writing helped me improve and showed me what i have to work on in future essays. I also thought i was helpful to conference with the teacher and you agrre with the grade instead of the teacher grade it themselves. As my teacher said, this could be a really good essay that they have written and the teacher might not know that. It is a good idea to get interaction from the fellow students and to conference with the teacher. I think the Englosh department should keep doing this becuase it seems to help.

rebeccar said...

Peer editing our college essays online was a great idea because it was both convenient and useful. Since we could access the essays from home and on our own time, we were able to do a better quality job than we would have if we peer edited in a short amount of time during class. It was very beneficial to see what other students have to say about our writing, as well.

The only thing I would change for next year would be the amount of essays we had to edit and comment on. That way, we would be more likely to spend more time and do a better quality job on them. In order for this activity to be beneficial, it really is time consuming.

Samantha E said...

I really liked this way of editing essays. It was nice to take my time to read the essay and then think of helpful comments to write. Having a time limit is hard because I read slow, so to be able to do it on my own time budget was nice. I also liked having all the comments in by a certain time, then having plenty of time to revise my essay. The thing I did not like was the fact that some of the comments were no good at all. The students should have put more thought into the comments. Some just weren’t so helpful. Overall I would do this again because I think it is a good idea.

ryan f said...

In my opinion, the college essay google group proved to be helpful to some, and not so much to others. It was interesting to use technology to get input on our writing from our peers, but at the same time it was somewhat difficult and monotonous. I think that once three comments were made on a paper, they all began to sound the same, and I started to wonder if people actually even read my essay. It was also difficult to implicate these comments into the essay because there were no specific examples or places to work on. Obviously, there is no way someone could actually go in and edit the essay, but if students could use more specific examples I think it may have been a little easier. Also, when people left comments like "Great job, you're a good writer," it was almost a waste of time. They did nothing to help improve the essay. But I believe that if it is a requirement to make unique and specific requirements, this could be much more helpful than it was this time. This has all the potential to be a new and great tool in aiding others with college essays, but it’s going to need a little work.

ryan f said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
emilied said...

I think that the whole idea of posting our essays up for everyone to read turned out to be a really good idea. It was nice that teachers could comment on them as well. This method also proved to be successful because you could read people's comments right away instead of waiting, which is what you would have originally had to do. The posts were also fun to read because they were anonymous so you got to know someone without really getting to know them. I think that we should continue to do this in the future.

Sean N said...

I thought posting our essays online was a great idea. It wasn't very difficult to do and it was a much more effective way to give criticism. When we peer edit in class only two or three people get a chance to comment on your paper. It's also a lot easier to comment on a paper anonymously rather than in class. Some of the comments I got were really helpful but some just stated how good my paper was. I heard from other students that most of their comments were simply praise for their essay. It was nice to hear that people liked my essay, but comments like that don't do me any good. If we do this again we should make it clear that "I love your essay" is not good criticism.

michaelm said...

The online post of essays seems like a great idea. Personally, I didn’t get feedback on my essay so I don’t really know how well it helps, but I would imagine that since most classes are leaning to technology, this method of editing would only make sense. I am with Brooks given that a few altercations of guidelines and direction, students could make the best of this online experience. My only thought against this is that I would still like to see peer editing in class because I seem to get more out of it, and give better feedback if we use class time, because students are pushed into using the time for feedback instead of on there own time at home when they may be in a hurry or just blow it off. I also like seeing the hard copy of my essay with highlights and notes directly on it. - Then again sometimes the highlights and notes are accompanied by sneeze remnants and Wednesday donut grease so maybe the online technique would work better…

JoeR said...

I am very impressed by the idea of peer editing our papers online. It allows for all to read each other's essays and for us to critique them. Generally the papers receive a helpful criticism but there are so many papers some don't get viewed. Maybe there can be a system that each class is assigned another class and that they must find a way to critique the entire class.
I was also happy to learn more about technology. Technology is such a important factor in our lives today and it is essential to learn the most about it before the future arrives. This is so beneficial for me because I can be considered "technology illiterate" and I feel that my knowledge of this kind of technology has grown because of the peer editing.

DanielC said...

I liked the idea of posting our essays on google. i liked looking at the other college essays and reading them but also getting some ideas for my own essay. i was hoping to get more complete criticism from my peers which made it hard to edit but it still helped. the comments seemed like the editors just quickly skimmed my essay and didnt really read it. i thought that the technological aspect of the blogging was great because it was convenient and easy. you could just log on and go on with the editing. it was a great idea and i think that future classes should do it aswell.

Kyle B. said...

This was a great idea. I really enjoyed receiving the chance to read and comment on the papers of my fellow classmates as well as receiving comments on my own writing. I am a writer who does not usually take the chance to take others' criticism, but with the online posting, I enjoyed the anonomous aspect, giving me the chance to take on changes as suggested by classmates without feeling targeted or singled out. While I think that this is a great idea, there are certainly some wrinkles that need to be smoothed out. For example, I did not have a large amount of comments upon my essay. In fact, there was only ever one comment, but that is beside the point. There was some sort of miscommunication between the participating classes that created this hiccup, but eventually, this can be fixed. Over all, this worked out great. I would definitely recommend this for future generations of seniors that enroll in Mrs. Smith's class, as well as any other class that could find a degree of relevance to their curriculum.

jaket said...

I thought the idea of posting your essay was a good idea to get more feedback but I didn't think the comments that I got were quality, and most people commented on the first sew just to get there comments out of the way. I guess every class just needs to make a promise to leave quality comments like we did in smiths class. I thought the idea was great and I like all the new technology were using mow I think it'll really help us prepare for college.

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