Sunday, June 5, 2016

Why and How to Share Student Writing with the World

What motivates students to write? Better yet, what motivates them to rewrite and edit and work to improve what they have created? Certainly there are many factors that can encourage student ownership and pride in writing, but one of the most impactful is audience.

Think about your own life. Let’s say you need to send out a newsletter or give a speech or do a presentation. If you know there will only be a handful of people who are going to receive your memo or listen to you talk, you will do a good job, but perhaps not your absolute best. Life is busy and we are pulled in a dozen different way at any one time, so we do what needs to be done and quickly move on to the next pressing task.

But now let’s say your audience is different. That article you are writing is going to be published in a magazine or an online site read by tens of thousands of people. Or that presentation you are giving is the keynote and hundreds of attendees will be focused on you and your words. Oh yeah, and it is being recorded so anyone can watch the video in the future. Hmmmm. Do you spend a little more time writing, and tweaking your words, and revising the final product?

Of course you do. And the same is true for our students.

When your students write, who is their audience? Many times it is an audience of one. Just you. What they write is going to be read by their teacher, graded, handed back, and that’s it. End of story. How much motivation will our students have in such a situation? Just enough. Just enough to get the grade and satisfy the requirements of the assignment.

So how can we change this and help provide more motivation for our students to do the best they can when writing? One option is to provide them with a larger, more authentic audience. Technology gives us unprecedented tools for collaboration and communication. Instead of just writing for their teacher, students can be writing for the world.

  • Student work can go beyond the teacher’s desk to be shared with peers and experts from around the world. 
  • Instead of just the “red pen comments” of their teacher, students can get feedback from multiple people and perspectives. 
  • And with a larger, more authentic audience comes motivation to write and rewrite, to make their work as good as they can.

As Ruston Hurley says “When children create for the world they make it good. When children create only for their teacher they make it good enough.

See below for details on three ways you can use Google tools and other technology to help students share their writing with the world.



Option #1: Share as link

One great way to share student writing with the world is to have the student create or store their work in Google Drive and then share their product using Google’s built-in sharing options. Many people are probably familiar with how to share a Doc with specific people by entering in their email addresses on the “Share with others” screen. However, if you want to share student writing with the world, you won’t actually have a list of email addresses to share with. Instead you want anyone in the world to be able to view and read the file. How can this be done?

Actually Google has two options for sharing a file. One is what we mentioned above, sharing with specific people’s email addresses. The second option is to share the file as a link. Then anyone who has the link can open the file, even though the file was not specifically shared with them and their email address. This is a perfect solution to allow student work to be seen by parents, community members, students from other schools, people in different countries, and more.

Here’s how it works:

  • First, you need to open the “Share with others” window.
  • If you are in a Google Doc (or Sheet, Slide, Drawing) you can simply click the big blue Share button in the top right corner.
  • If the file is not a Google file, such as a PDF or video or audio file or such, you can still share it. Simply click on the file in Google Drive and then click the share button in the top toolbar in Drive.
  • Either way, when the “Share with others” window opens, click “Get sharable link” in the top right corner.


This will generate a link that will allow others to view the document. However, if you are using Google Apps for Education, the link will most likely be restricted to just your school. If you want people outside of your school to view the file, you need to do a few more steps.


  • Click the down arrow next to “Anyone at [your school] with the link can view
  • Choose “More...” from the drop-down menu.
  • This will open the “Link sharing” window.
  • Choose “Public on the web” to allow anyone in the world to view the file if they have the link or if they run a Google search for the file.
  • Choose “Anyone with the link” to allow anyone in the world to view the file if they have the link, but do not let the file show up from a Google search.
  • Click “Save” when done.



You can now click the “Copy link” button to copy the hyperlink for the document. Anyone who has the link will now be able to view the file.


You can get the link to other people in many ways:

  • Link it in on the class website
  • Share it on social media such as Twitter, Facebook, or Google+
  • Send it in an email to others
  • Make a QR code from it
  • Use a URL shortener such as bit.ly or tiny.cc to make a shorter, easier to share version of the link (great for putting in printed materials like newsletters)


Option #2: Download in another format

Although it is super easy to share the student work as described above, sometimes people may want the student writing in a different non-Google format, such as a PDF or an EPUB. Thankfully Google Apps makes it easy to export files in a wide variety of formats.

  • First, open the Google Doc, Sheet, Slide, or Drawing.
  • Next click the “File” menu and “Download as” from the drop-down menu.
  • Finally choose the format you wish to download the file as.



The different Google programs can download in the following formats:

  • Docs - MS Word (.docx), OpenDocument (.odt), Rich Text (.rtf), PDF (.pdf), Plain Text (.txt), Web Page (.html), and EPUB Publication (.epub)
  • Sheets - MS Excel (.xlsx), OpenDocument (.odt), PDF (.pdf), Web Page (.html), Comma-separated values (.csv), and Tab-separated values (.tsv)
  • Slides - MS Powerpoint (.pptx), PDF (.pdf), Plain Text (.txt), JPEG image (.jpg), PNG image (.png), Scalable Vector Graphics (.svg)
  • Drawings - PDF (.pdf), JPEG image (.jpg), PNG image (.png), Scalable Vector Graphics (.svg)


Once the student work has been downloaded in one of these non-Google formats, it can be shared online in many ways such as posting to a website or blog.

Note: Keep in mind, if you download a Google file into a non-Google format, the non-Google version will not get any new updates the student makes to the original file. The downloaded version is not “live” but is just a one-time snapshot of the original file.


Option #3: Paste into a blog or site

A final option for sharing student work online is quite basic, but still very useful. It is the old favorite of copy and paste.

First, students can do all of their writing inside of Google Docs. This allows them to take advantage of all the awesome features provided in Docs to help them improve their writing. This includes voice typing, the Research tool, revision history, peer editing, teacher comments, Read&Write for Google to read their work aloud for self-editing, and more.

  • For more details on these fabulous features of Docs, see my slide show here: Google Slides link 

Once the student is done creating their story, essay, or article in Docs, they can now copy and paste their text into a blog post or a webpage. Putting the student writing directly into a blog post can be useful for several reasons:

  • Most blog sites provide an option for visitors to leave comments. This can be an easy way to get feedback on student writing, which again can provide motivation for revisions and more writing. Blogs also allow these comments to be moderated or deleted as needed if abused.
  • A blog or website is also useful to give people a central site to visit, as revisit, to find more writings from that student or other students.

This is actually the method I use to write my blog posts for Control Alt Achieve. I start by doing all my writing in Google Docs so that I can edit and revise as needed. Then when everything is done, I copy and paste my final product into a post in Google Blogger.

Note: Here’s a quick tip to consider when copying and pasting. Normally when you copy and paste, the process pastes the text along with its formatting. That is, you end up getting all the text along with the font, font color, font size, and such. This may not be what you want if the formatting does not match the look and feel of your blog or website. One way to avoid this is to do a special kind of paste that only pastes the text and not the formatting. Here’s how:

  • First copy the text as normal by selecting the content and pressing “Ctrl” and “C”
  • Do not paste like normal with “Ctrl” and “V”
  • Instead do a special paste by pressing “Ctrl” and “Shift” and “V”
  • This will paste just the text and none of the formatting


Conclusion

As much as possible we want to motivate our students to write with passion, self-edit, get feedback from others, revise, and share their ideas with the world. That means giving them choice and voice. Choice means giving our students input and options when choosing the topics and tools they use in their work. Voice means finding ways for our students to share their writing beyond the teacher’s desk or the front of the home refrigerator.

With Google tools we have many great options to help motivate our students in their writing and to share their work with a broader, more authentic audience. Please use the comment below to share other ideas and methods you have used to share your students’ writings.


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