Mailbag: Thumbdrives, Google Docs, and Longhand, Oh, My!

Oct 17, 2012

Dear Maia,

I’m a middle school language arts teacher, and it has gotten increasingly complicated to keep track of my students’ writing over my decade of teaching. Some students want to write by hand.  Others want to draft on laptops or desktop computers. Google Docs are great, but sometimes the Internet is spotty or I can’t get our school’s laptops.  Some students have computers and Internet at home.  Others don’t. Some students forget to save, or they may email something they start in class and then start over at home or the next day in class on a different computer. Others start at home on a Google Doc and then sometimes the Internet doesn’t work and they can’t work on it in class. And don’t even get me started on students forgetting their flash drives! HELP?!

Ariel S. in Brooklyn


Hi Ariel!

Ooooh, this is a good one! In fact, your question was so awesome, I called you up to discuss this challenge and brainstorm solutions together.

Readers, here’s what we came up with:

  • Expect students to work around your own preferences at certain stages in the writing process. For example, Ariel and I discussed requiring students to type and print their second drafts so she can grade them more efficiently. Previously, Ariel was accepting shared Google Docs or thumb drives, and the process of downloading individual pieces of work was very time consuming. In addition, she was going back and forth between hard and soft copies. College professors require students to turn things in with specific format specifications, so let’s prepare our students early by setting similar expectations.
  • Get technology set up to support your process. Ariel noted that her school and classroom had recently moved locations (we’ve all been there!), so her classroom printer was not yet set up. Getting it connected will help ensure that her students can come before or after school to print their drafts. This would then support her expectations for their second drafts. Additionally, while students have the choice to type or write out first drafts, Ariel will now expect any typists to share proof of functional thumb drives prior to their start. This will help prevent any issues that arise when Internet access varies.
  • Create a visual tracker to monitor progress. Ariel and I share the same passion for our helping our students feel and become “writerly.” We want them writing as much as possible, wherever possible. The downside is that when students draft on laptops or at home, it becomes more challenging to monitor progress. We discussed using a visual tracker to celebrate student progress at getting words down on paper. Students drafting in both methods could log in their number of words written per day.

Ariel, thanks for writing! We look forward to an update on how the process is going—for you and your students!

PS Together Teachers, Ariel writes an awesome blog. You can read more at On the Shoulders of Giants.

Together Teacher Sharing Question: How have you made managing multiple drafts of student work more efficient and less stressful?