During the pandemic, many teachers turned to Google Workspace for instruction. They used Google Classroom to distribute assignments and grade work and Google Docs and Google Slides to create interactive tasks for their learners. The ease of use and collaboration possibilities within Google Workspace have made it a staple for virtual, hybrid, and in-person instruction.
But I found that students needed tools that do more than just put their assignments in front of them. Whether students were learning at home or were present in the classroom, they needed support while working on their digital tasks, particularly direction clarification or answers to their questions about assignment expectations.
I found the easiest way to help my learners was to embed supports into all assignments on Google Workspace before distributing them. That way, I could help them be better prepared to complete their assignments independently.
Google Docs: Open Preview
Providing links to outside resources or materials is a common way to give learners additional support. However, Google Docs can take that strategy a step further. When a student clicks a link shared by a teacher in a Google Doc, they have the option to “open preview.” This feature allows the resource to open on the right side of the Doc rather than in a new tab; it works best when the linked resource is a different Google Doc or a Google Slide presentation.
For example, an ELA teacher could link a mentor text for a student to refer to as they compose an essay, or a math teacher could link examples in Google Slides to demonstrate how to complete specific problems. Then, the student could select “open preview” and use the reference for support right within the Google Doc while completing the assignment.
My students benefit from sentence starters in open preview as support for their writing short responses, so when I assign writing tasks, I always link to a Google Doc anchor chart of popular sentence starters. My students use the preview feature to refer to the chart during the writing process easily—they find it easier to do that way because they don’t have to toggle among resources in different tabs.
Google Classroom: Text Formatting
One of the Google Classroom updates for this year was the addition of text formatting to posts. Now, teachers can boldface, italicize, and underline words in the directions sections of their posts. They can also add bullet-point lists to this section. While that might seem like a small upgrade, text formatting bolsters support for students: A teacher can use bold text to draw students’ attention to important parts of the directions. The bullet points can be used to list step-by-step directions for completing the task, providing students with additional clarification while they work.
Google Forms: Personalized Feedback
Google Forms provides a great way to assign, grade, and comment on assessments. Teachers can set the form to become a quiz, allowing students to assign point values for each question and create an answer key for automatic grading. Although the answer key lets teachers add the same feedback for every student, Google Forms can take it a step further and give teachers space to add personalized feedback.
While viewing the responses to the Form, teachers can click the “Individual” tab to see the response from an individual student. Then, under each question, there’s an option to “add individual feedback.” Teachers can provide specific, individualized feedback to the student for that specific question (e.g., “I noticed you missed the questions the last few assignments. Stop by my office hours and we can check in.”). They can also add supplemental links to resources or YouTube videos for additional support. When the student views the returned Google Form, they will see the feedback and the other linked materials.
I used the personalized feedback option often with my students. If I notice my students struggling with a specific skill from the quiz, I add the link to my Google Meet office hours. When my students see the feedback, they click the link and stop by for additional review and support.
Google Docs: Checklists
Often, long-term projects are posted on Google Classroom, but it can be difficult for some students to follow along with the requirements in these types of assignments. I recommend creating a Google Doc with a checklist of steps—a recent update to Google Docs allows you to create checklists easily. The feature is located in the toolbar at the top of a Doc. Once it’s activated, a teacher can list all the steps that must be completed for a longer assignment. As students complete a step, they can check the box to cross out that task.
In my classes, I assigned independent practice activities for the entire week at one time. At the beginning of the week, I posted a Google Doc with a checklist of all the activities on Google Classroom, using the “make a copy for each student” function. The Doc became a reference for my students, and they could check off the tasks they completed. The list was also helpful because I could easily see what assignments they had finished in one place.