Using Google Tools to Support Writing Webinar Review

Disclaimer: I am not being paid for or benefiting from this review in any way. I simply attended the webinar and wanted to share my thoughts about these tools with other educators.

I recently participated in a webinar from Text Help, a Literacy, accessibility and dyslexia software that helps students with reading and writing difficulties. The webinar also featured Kasey Bell and was geared towards using Google tools to support writing at any level and I learned about some great tools I wanted to feature here.

Google Docs Tools

First off, let’s start with the tools already in Google Docs, most of which deal with peer critiquing and feedback:

Version History is my favorite and I especially love it for group projects. Inevitably, there’s always one person who accidentally deletes a whole section of text, but with version history you can go “back in time” to see previous versions and restore it. You can also see the names of who worked on the document, along with timestamps for changes and the actual changes each person made.

To find Version History, select
File>Version history>See version history

It also works great to see changes individual students have made from draft to draft, so you can view their progress and growth throughout the writing process.

See New Changes – this feature will show you if changes have been made to shared documents since the last time you opened it and will walk you through who made changes and what the changes are.

Comments – In the top right corner of every document next to the share button is a comment icon. You can make general comments about a document or assignment or by highlighting a portion of text add feedback about a specific phrase, sentence, or paragraph.

The cool thing about this comment feature is that you can tag students, so they see a specific comment.  In the comment box type +studentname and it will automatically come up with the student’s name.  If Gmail is turned on at your school for students, it will also email them that they have been tagged in a comment. 

Once you’ve tagged someone, you’ll notice a checkbox that says “Assign to…” allowing
you to assign them a specific task to do. This would work well for group work as students can assign tasks for each other to accomplish.

From a feedback perspective, if you see students making the same mistake several times, you can assign a student support work and link to another document or resource right within the comment area that will help them practice this issue.

Highlight Tool – Use this tool as a feedback strategy highlighting areas of concern using different colors. This one will take some setup as you will need to decide on which colors to use to represent each area and make sure students understand what each color represents. So for example, words highlighted in yellow are spelling mistakes, grammar issues are pink and run-on sentences are blue.

Suggestion Mode – Another one of my favorite editing tools! This tool changes the document from edit mode, which is the default mode Google Docs is set in and changes it to suggestion mode. It allows another person the document is shared with to add suggestions but not actually change the document. Changes are seen in green and the original user can approve or reject suggestions. Click on “Editing” under the share button and select “Suggesting” to move into this mode.

Voice Typing – Dictate speech, a great way for ELL students to practice fluency. This tool can be found under the “tools” tab.

TextHelp Tools

You may have noticed I haven’t mentioned anything about spell check yet! Unfortunately, Google Docs doesn’t have the best reputation with teachers as it doesn’t always find all of the mistakes. Here’s where TextHelp comes in. They have a really great looking
Chrome extension tool called Read & Write for Google Chrome with TONS of tools on it! This tool can be used within Google Docs and on other websites too. During the webinar they featured:

  • CheckIt – will check for spelling and grammar mistakes
  • Word Prediction – tries to predict the next word.  They market this for early writing learners, students who need extra support in writing, or for ELL learners.
  • Voice Comments – can leave voice comments/notes for students
  • Speech Input – Dictate speech
The Read & Write toolbar

They demonstrated how the CheckIt tool works in comparison to the spelling and grammar check tool in Google Docs and it caught so many more errors! But the really cool thing about CheckIt is that it continues checking as you continue to fix errors.

One of the sentences they used was I left my suitcase at the train station four fiive hours”.  

Now, obviously the number five is spelled wrong and CheckIt got that right, but it didn’t initially pick up on “four” being used incorrectly. The reason why is because until “five” could be identified as being the right word, it didn’t know “four” was incorrect. As soon as the webinar host fixed “five”, it automatically picked up on “four” being used incorrectly. It was pretty awesome!

There is a 30 day trial when you install the extension, but teachers can get a FREE premium subscription to Read & Write for Google Chrome.  You must first install the extension. Then register and activate your subscription at https://www.texthelp.com/en-gb/products/free-for-teachers.

Tools to Assess Digital Writing

The last thing they discussed in the webinar was tools that can help assess digital writing. They focused on both add-ons to Google Docs and Chrome Extensions.

As teachers, we know rubrics are a great way to let students know about assignment expectations and it helps us assess their work. Two rubric add-ons they mentioned were Orange Slice and JoeZoo Express.

As far as add-ons go for Feedback tools, Kasey Bell recommended Doc Appender. I will also mention two others that weren’t included in the webinar, but I feel is useful if you’re reading this post. Kaizena, which among its features allows you to leave voice comments for students. The other, Draftback, I learned about from the PWCS EdTech podcast in episode 11, Blended Learning. This allows teachers to see a video of all the revision edits as a student was writing. So you can see in real time how long it took a student to write a paper and what time of the day they were working on it. But probably the best thing about seeing a video of the revision edits is that if you suddenly see a large amount of text appear with barely any edits, the student most likely copied and pasted the text and plagiarized their paper.

TextHelp also shared a Chrome extension called WriQ, which is a writing metrics tool. It automatically analyzes the documents for spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors, in addition to having helpful metrics like assessing how long it took a student to complete a task, their vocabulary maturity and more. It can help analyze what is missing, collect data, and evaluate and score your student’s writing. I immediately thought about Virginia’s new Profile of a Graduate requirements and some changes the Virginia Department of Education is making in high school English classes and think this tool will be really helpful for writing prompts.

Overall, I was really impressed with the webinar and all of these awesome tools to support writing! Here’s a link to the slides from the presentation if you would like a further look.

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