Tag Archives: writing

Electronic workshopping with google docs


In the past several years, I’ve tried many, many different workshop methodologies–the full class single-paper workshop one day, followed by small-group workshops the next; round-robin workshops; lightning critiques; the simple exchange/read/comment; send your draft to a peer through email and use Word to comment/merge; in-class electronic workshopping with a peer; in-class polishing at the computer lab, and more. The list seems to be endless, and it feels as though none of them have really worked. This term, I’m trying google docs. I don’t really know why I’d not tried it before for workshopping; I’ve used it for other kinds of collaborative writing, like class creation of course policies, group notetaking, and so on, but I’ve not tried it for workshopping per se.

Tonight, we’ll see how it works in a small class. Students were asked to bring their laptops and an electronic document, which we’ll post to a shared folder I’ve created (this could be done prior to class, and I did encourage students to do so, but I am banking on there being stragglers!) and convert to an editable format.  The major questions students addressed as concerns the previous class included 1.) accuracy of theoretical understanding, and 2.) the usefulness of the through narrative they’re to construct for the assignment.

I’ll have students spend a little time crafting questions specific to their own essays at the head of their draft, and adding two or three questions at specific points throughout–this has the added benefit of allowing us to assess any difficulties with the technology. Then, students will work with three other essays in turn to address the extent to which it fulfills the goals of the assignment, in particular by making at least six positive suggestions for changing or refining the content. This can involve suggesting:

  • a quote or a paraphrase,
  • a logical connection,
  • an alternative formulation,
  • a re-organization,
  • a transition, and so on.

Students can reply to or otherwise comment on other reviewers’ comments, as well. Then, I’d like to have students spend a little time crafting a final comment regarding style–in particular, what writing habits did you notice that the author might want to examine during the revision process? What citation habits might the author want to revise? The goal with these specific tasks is to limit and structure the kind of comments peer reviewers can make. By the end of the workshop, each draft should have three reviewers’ comment–students will have to look at the comments to assess whether that draft needs another pair of eyes.

The next step will be downloading the draft as a Word document–this should retain the comments. The essay’s shape will have to be revised, as well as the content, because the upload/comment/download process will strip some of the overall formatting.

Has anyone else used a shared google docs folder for workshopping? I’d love to hear about your experiences!

Sentence Imitations for Structure

Today in Composition, we spent some time on one last-minute edit of the first project before it was turned in, and I was interested to note how many typos, dropped and misspelled words were corrected! Hopefully, this kind of attention to detail will improve in later projects; to help ensure that happens, I’ve asked students to keep my commented versions of their essays to turn in with the next project. A new strategy, this “continual portfolio” idea may become a centerpiece in later classes, as it can be useful to ensure that 1.) my hours of commenting don’t go to waste!, and 2.) students can use their past essays as indices of their improvement.

Then, we spent almost the rest of the class on an imitation exercise, using sentences I excerpted from the day’s reading. It took a while, but I think the exercise did what it was supposed to do–encourage students to see the value of acheiving an expertise with the English language. Or, as someone has recently said, in achieving the ability to “make sweet, sweet love to the English language.”

In the last 15 minutes, we went back to the content of the sentences and brainstormed how we could use Miller’s statements about technology and its impact on American culture in the 1920s as lenses on One Week. This portion of class was devoted to setting up the next project, in which students will be writing an analytical essay about a 1920s film that articulates a central theme relevant to the time period. Next class, we’ll do more work with this idea–tying historical context as described in secondary and primary sources to creative analysis of our own. This class is turning out to be a bit of an experiment, but so far I really think it’s working! I wish I could read my students’ minds….

Workshopping, Round 1

This morning in comp 102, we held our first workshopping day, and I’ve got mixed feelings about it. It’s hard to read one’s own work critically, true–but I still feel that looking at others’ work is an important first step. Workshopping helps us acheive the degree of distance necessary to a critical examination of one’s own work. The first part of class we spent going over some tips and tricks for strong, precise, and concise writing tailored to the scene description assignment, which is due on Thursday. Then, I wanted students to use those tools to make substantial revision suggestions on the body of their peer’s draft, followed with a final comment generalizing strengths and weaknesses, and concluding with a brief discussion of the findings.

Some groups seemed to work well, while others didn’t–but I’m not sure what the problem was. If it’s boredom, finding other things more interesting to discuss, and so on, then perhaps smaller tasks are in order. Perhaps it’s too much to ask that students can concentrate on a single, :30 minute, purpose driven task? I did try running the Keaton film, One Week, in the background as part inspiration, part white noise, which may have added a certain something to the room.

Overall, the drafts were on track, and they did use the present tense, third person, and active voice almost exclusively–which is significant, especially for this assignment. Some things I noticed in drafts: verbs in general could have been stronger, though there was clear attention paid by most to find the right words; several students made a clear effort to vary the sentence structure in interesting, innovative ways; and in discussion, several groups definitely drew on the tools for revision we’d discussed as a class. I’m interested to see what the revision process results in, as that will give me a good sense of how to pair students for future workshops. So, a mixed but promising bag!