After realizing my endless stacks of grading were threatening to swallow my sanity, I took the leap into embracing technology. However, what I found initially was that while stacks were fewer and my desk cleaner, my anxiety levels were not lower.

In my quest for a new organizational system, I moved to using Turnitin.com for scoring essays online. My new system proved incredibly effective at not only creating clean surfaces, but at showing me where I was failing my students, and where I was failing was giving effective feedback. I needed to give more feedback to each student throughout the writing process and not on the end product. The problem, however, was time.

Let me illustrate. Even with Turnitin.com’s automated system giving the majority of grammar notes, it still generally takes me between five to ten minutes to evaluate and comment on a standard five paragraph essay. I’ll average that out to 7 minutes. Now, I have 182 students, but not every student turns in every essay, so lets just say that I have 85% of my students submit. That is 154.7 students…we’ll just round up to 155. So if I have 155 students turn in an essay, at 7 minutes an essay, I will spend a total of 1085 minutes or 18.083 hours scoring and giving feedback. Each draft I have a student submit for feedback has the potential to add another 18.083 hours to my already hefty grading load. Now, each week I have anywhere from 8 hrs and 40 minutes and 9 hours and 20 minutes of contracted non-student contact time—time that must also be used to make copies, call parents, write letters of recommendation, develop curriculum, gather and analyze data…Needless to say, a good chunk of that 18.083 hours has to happen outside of the school day, especially if I want to make sure my students get feedback in a timely manner.

Here’s the thing. I love my students, and I want to do my best by them, but I also have a seven-year-old daughter, and, while I regularly work at home, I refuse to do all my parenting from behind a screen. My new system needed to help me find a solution that did not sacrifice my family.

Enter Kim, an amazing Social Studies teacher from a neighboring high school whom I met during my work with the Oregon Writing Project. One of Kim’s numerous specialties is technology, and she had the answers I needed, namely Google Add-ons. Fortunately, my district is one of many that subscribes to Google Apps for Education and gives each student a Gmail account. Because of this, I could utilize specific add-ons designed by teachers to help me distribute and organize assignments. As it turned out, there was one add-on in particular became the perfect answer to my feedback problem.

Doctopus*, silly as the name may sound, was my answer. This Google add-on, when attached to a spreadsheet, created a folder for each of my students where I could push-out assignments, or in which they could create documents that were automatically shared with me. On my end, each student’s files were housed in a single class folder. Doctopus took care of all of the organization (something important for a “stack” person). Most importantly, it meant that I could quickly pop in and comment real-time while the students wrote. Feedback could become dynamic and part of the class, not part of my evenings.

Beyond that, students were able to share documents within Google Docs, which allowed me to incorporate digital peer feedback as well. I simply placed the students in small response groups, gave each student a focus (grammar, transitions, evidence, etc..), and instructed them to invite the other group members to comment. I don’t have hard numbers to back this up, but it appeared that students were engaging more and making more thorough notes in a digital format. This not only helped to lighten my load, but required students to work with an evaluator’s eye which is an integral part of the process.

The success I was finding inspired me. I began to wonder if I could use the class Chromebooks to solve other paper related problems: lost homework, long waits for the copier, access to assignments for absent students….It was time for step three: bye-bye paper.

 

*I did most of my work with Doctopus, however, it is only one of a number of add-ons that can work together to revamp the way a teacher gives feedback. If interested, check out Kim Kanof’s article for EdSurge: From Guilt to Google: Experimenting with Tech Tools to Improve Writing Feedback.

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